- Colin Fraser
TWO AND A HALF STARS The story of author J.R.R. Tolkien's early life, the inspiration for Lord Of The Rings.
Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins
PERIOD DRAMA #TOLKIEN
If you’ve come looking for an origins story to LORD OF THE RINGS, you’ve come to the wrong place. This stately and over-safe account of J.R.R. Tolkien’s early life packs all the excitement and emotional wallop of a Sunday night drama. Not that that’s such a bad thing, but it renders the story about one of the 20th century’s most influential authors too small for the multiplex and much too pedestrian for the arthouse. A shame, for in the background and around the edges of Kurukoski’s rather proper film is another aching to wreak damage.
It’s a similar problem that bedevilled his previous biopic TOM OF FINLAND, although here he’s found a more balanced centre around which to craft a more even narrative. A bigger budget helps and one that has been spent wisely in creating the visual links between Tolkien’s imagination and his books we’ve come to know and love. The story leans heavily on his education, from when the boy was orphaned and sent to private school, then Oxford and finally into the horrors of World War One: journeys both good and bad, learnings that would inform his novels.
Nicholas Hoult is well cast in the lead role, convincing both as a student determined to live, a soldier determined not to die and finally as a budding author alive with possibility. Where TOLKIEN stumbles is in failing to take the leap beyond a conventional biopic into something more electrifying, more deserving of a man who wrote an entire language for his characters, a man whose imagination was capable of igniting that of readers for decades to come.
Centre screen, Kurukoski ticks off all the tropes one by one, leaving only a hint of possibility, the damage, to inhabit the margins. There’s a hint of what could have been, but mostly we get the kind of film we’ve seen so many times before. One that’s handsome, perfectly serviceable but, sadly, nothing more.