There were always biographical dramas and there will always be. Some are blunt and analytical like Raging Bull or Malcolm X (1992), others take too many narrative licenses and they play with the same mythology of their “object of study” and deliver an aesthetic, from the beginning, more interesting, like the lysergic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Most are inconsequential stories that do not contribute much more to what we can find in any library, and that is where Tolkien (2019) falls, a biopic as bland as boring.
The unknown director Dome Karukoski is fully involved (or not so much) in the formative years of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult), creator of Middle-earth and one of the most renowned fantastic authors of all time. The Cypriot filmmaker walks us through his childhood after the establishment of his family in England (the kidnapping nation in South Africa), the imprint of his mother's death, his passage through Mrs. Faulkner's home (Pam Ferris) where he met to his future wife, Edith Bratt (Lily Collins), and above all, the influence of his classmates from King Edward's School, a very expensive school where he fit little to nothing, but where he began his true artistic career after frequenting Rob Gilson ( Patrick Gibson), Geoffrey Bache Smith (Anthony Boyle) and Christopher Wiseman (Tom Glynn-Carney), with whom he founded the TCBS, a secret brotherhood known as the Tea Club and Barrovian Society.
These are the axes of Tolkien: the constant literary exchange with his youth friends, and the bumpy romance with Edith, a company lady that didn't have much to offer, but who became inspiration for characters such as Lúthien Tinúviel and Arwen Evenstar, thanks to their free and somewhat strenuous spirit. All within a rather innocuous and nuanced atmosphere, which paints the author as a true tragic hero, chased by the ghosts of his past and his childhood, added to the traumatic experiences of the First World War, a breakpoint for his work in the future and that “community” that exceeded the school and reached the university.
Both Karukoski, as the script by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford, miss the opportunity to play a little more with the imaginary created by J. R. R. and introduce it into a narrative that, from now on, does not have much to offer. Yes, there are some indications of his terrifying creatures, and those that are not so much, but all masked in the most generic romantic drama that can be found on the big screen.
The director pays due attention to each of the “scenographic” details of the first decades of the last century with great care and recreates an era where women, it seems, do not cut or prick. There is also the luxury of taking us to the trenches and that bloody Battle of the Somme, images eclipsed (even) by the Land of Nobody from Wonder Woman. We blame Patty Jenkins, who ruined that vision forever.
Jokes aside, the reality is that none of these experiences is reflected with drama (or any other emotion) on the screen and Tolkien's character. We are not going to blame Hoult, who does what he can with what he has and has been paddling it from About a Boy, and whose result is an absolutely flat protagonist.
Tolkien shows the limited budget and that brake that the director puts on when he lets his inventive narrative fly. Likewise, it is not a valid excuse, since for the same amount of dollars, Marc Foster could immerse himself with much more success in the imaginary of Sir J.M. Barrie in Finding Neverland. The comparisons are odious, and here there are not so many connection points that we say, but it serves as an example to show that you can tell are boring period stories with a little imagination and a twist, much more when the protagonist in question made both for literature and fantastic universes.
Genres: Drama , History , Romance , War | Duration: 112 min | Year: 2019
Cast: Nicholas Hoult , Lily Collins , Colm Meaney , Anthony Boyle , Patrick Gibson , Tom Glynn-Carney , Craig Roberts , Derek Jacobi , Harry Gilby , Adam Bregman , Albie Marber , Ty Tennant , Laura Donnelly , Genevieve O'Reilly , Pam Ferris