Tolkien

In Cinemas Now

A life of love, courage and fellowship.

Nicholas Hoult is legendary Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien in this biopic exploring his formative years.

As a young student, Tolkien finds love, friendship and artistic inspiration among a group of fellow outcasts. Their bond soon strengthens as he goes through a tumultuous courtship with Edith Bratt and the outbreak of World War I - experiences that later inspire his classic Middle-Earth novels.

Films about writers are usually either (a) boring or (b) bollocks. So it’s no surprise Tolkien’s family have rejected Dome Karukoski’s busy biopic, which follows the Lord Of The Rings scribe from his wretched childhood right up to the writing of The Hobbit.

Nicholas Hoult (The Favourite, Mad Mad: Fury Road) gives a dignified central performance, and the script by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford offers genuine biographical details as the inspiration behind Tolkien’s fantasy worlds. So the cosy country dwelling where the young JRR lived before his mother died becomes the Shire; industrial Birmingham is Mordor; and the friends he makes at boarding school form his very own fellowship.

There’s a romance, too, with fellow orphan Edith (Lily Collins). Though movingly acted, it’s a touch underwritten, but it’s more than made up for by scenes of Tolkien falling in love with language at Oxford, and the extraordinary World War I sequences, where Karukoski really lets rip. These see our hero wading through filth, ruined bodies and pooling blood to find his friend (Anthony Boyle), all the while imagining monsters in the pluming smoke.

Tolkien may not be 100 per cent accurate, but it is convincing and compelling—a tough call with material this varied. There’s even room for that great British pastime: taking the piss. At school, the headmaster (Owen Teale) criticises Tolkien’s beloved legends for not having any women in them. Later someone chides, “It shouldn’t take six hours to tell the story of a magic ring.” They’re referring to Wagner, but it might as well be Peter Jackson.

Empire (UK)

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Karukoski's entertaining film boasts flair and narrative ambition, but ultimately fails to completely break free of its traditional biopic frame.

The Guardian

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Its earnestness and idealism are refreshing.

TimeOut (London)

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Director Dome Karukoski peppers the film with cutaways to imaginary CGI battles and mythological beasties, but none is a fraction as thrilling as the opening moments of Peter Jackson's 'The Fellowship of the Ring'.

Hollywood Reporter

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Handsomely made in the customarily fastidious style of most period biographical dramas, Tolkien is strongly served by Hoult...

Variety (USA)

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The film - stately, well-acted, and ultimately insubstantial - dilutes its considerable charms with hoary literary biopic conventions, and then risks strangling them entirely with its reductively literal takes on the vagaries of artistic inspiration.

Los Angeles Times

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But that imagination is what is most conspicuously lacking in "Tolkien," which too often falls back into a pose of intellectual and aesthetic timidity.

New York Times

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[The movie] teems with many on-the-nose moments. And it does so while hewing so strongly to the Distinguished British Biopic ethos... that it teeters on the edge of genuine obnoxiousness.

Stuff.co.nz (Graeme Tuckett)

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Tolkien has turned out about as well as it could.