Tolkien, 2019 // Movie Review

“A safe fairyland is untrue to all worlds.”


TOLKIEN explores the formative years of the renowned author’s life as he finds friendship, courage and inspiration among a fellow group of writers and artists at school. Their brotherhood strengthens as they grow up and weather love and loss together, including Tolkien’s tumultuous courtship of his beloved Edith Bratt, until the outbreak of the First World War which threatens to tear their fellowship apart. All of these experiences would later inspire Tolkien to write his famous Middle-earth novels.

(Quoted from Film’s Official Website)

/ Trailer /

/ Tech Specs /

Directed by Dome Karukoski

Script by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford

Genre: Biopic, Drama, British, Historical

Starring Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Colm Meaney, and Derek Jacobi

Industry Content Rating: PG-13, for some war violence scenes

/ Positives /

+ Overall a beautiful telling of the early years of Tolkien

This is more than just a friendship. It’s an alliance. An invincible alliance. Helheimr!

Robert Gilson in the movie Tolkien, 2019

+ The Tea Club and Barrovian Society/TCBS. I feel very tempted to tell you everything about the TCBS. But I won’t here as I shall address some details in my next point. So let’s just say that this is central to the movie’s story. And was Tolkien’s fellowship prior to the Inklings.

Geoffrey Bache Smith: My mother’s exactly the same. She values poetry. She loves it. She refuses to see it as a potential career. She sees me as a lawyer, or an accountant.

Robert Gilson: Well, at least your parents discuss it. If I even mentioned becoming a painter, I’d be disowned. No. I’d be decapitated.

From the movie Tolkien, 2019

+ The focus on brotherly and sacrificial love, loyalty, and courage is much appreciated. I love seeing the friendship among the TCBS members. With a hearty nod to artistic inspiration and accountability, and also independence, since family support is sometimes limited.

+ Positive adult role models in a young Tolkien’s life: his mother, his guardian – Father Frances (and thank you, Hollywood, for not being anti-Catholic in this), and Professor Joseph Wright.

+ Every shot is cinematically beautiful with perfect casting and costumes. Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins really nailed their respective roles as “Ronald” Tolkien and Edith. (I pick at the dialogue and characters’ relationship depth but this aspect does its best to mend my feelings overall.)

I can die in any way the fates choose, that’s not up to me. But what is within my power is to decide how I live. Courageously or timidly.

Robert Gilson in the movie Tolkien, 2019

+ Helheimr!

From the Norse, the ruthless goddess Hel’s realm of the dead “where warriors are sent if they die in the wrong way” (i.e. “peacefully, illness, old age, anything other than battle”). For Marvel fans out there, think Hela from Thor: Ragnarok. It’s a very timely reminder that life must be lived with purpose, with courage, with honor, with all your heart, in life, in the creation of art, and in death.

+ I love all the scattered sources of creative inspiration Tolkien uses from his life in the creation of Middle Earth: Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (Ring) cycle of operas, Edith Bratt (as his Muse, Luthien, Arwen), his fellowship of friends (The Fellowship of the Ring), No-Man’s Land (Mordor), the tragic losses and experience at the Somme (which brilliantly captures its association to the Nazgul/Ringwraiths and even Sauron).

Side Note: Points on depicting the Somme. It is done so well that I could feel the absolute loss and tragedy in that place. And how many young and brave lives lost there.

+ Also scattered throughout is how Tolkien’s Catholic faith and upbringing influenced his stories. It’s not overtly done. And while I appreciate all the symbolism weaved in, I still think it could have more in-depth dialogue regarding this.

Things aren’t beautiful because of how they sound. They’re beautiful because of what they mean.

Edith Bratt in the movie Tolkien, 2019

+ The words-meaning-history-culture link Tolkien learned and used in his Middle Earth world. It’s a really great reminder about the numerous beautiful words in the English language, as well as the rich history behind each one.

/ Negatives /

– The film could have included more growth to the characters (a mile wide of characters but an inch deep in some ways).

– Generally needs more dialogue with depth. (I understand limitations of running time and etc., but still – my writer brain values this since it’s rarely done well in films.) Still – points on the dialogue that is poetic and just being so quotable. 🙂

– Edith and Tolkien’s relationship as the main element of the story, while sweet and the actors’ chemistry is praiseworthy, could have used less “given” (these two grew up together so they love each other) and more realistic development.

– The extremely minor screen-time of Tolkien’s brother stood out to me as a bit odd.

Concluding Thoughts

As a LotR fan, I’m pleased this movie was made and this legendary author’s story told. Emotions and passions are highly contagious – good (such as Tolkien and his fellowship’s) and bad ones (such as those that initiated The Great War as well as The Second World War). It’s a wonderful reminder that out of the deepest mire and darkness and despair, we can still find hope and beauty and love and cling onto it. And make it ours. Even create our own. And in doing so, inspire others to do the same. I think this film, with the creative liberties taken and all, respects and properly captures the essential spirit of Tolkien and his love for words and meaning, as well as poetically presenting probable depictions of how and where such love for language originated.

As an afterthought, I would love to see a film or TV miniseries (got to love those, the running time allows the story and characters so much more time to develop) focusing on Tolkien’s life as a whole and/or his friendship with C.S. Lewis and the Inklings with more depth. Yet I think for what this movie was meant by its creators to focus on, it accomplishes beautifully, if not perfectly.

It’s about journeys. Adventures. Magic, of course. Treasure. And love. It’s about all kinds of things really. It’s hard to say. I suppose it’s about quests, to a certain extent. The journeys we take to prove ourselves. About courage. Fellowship. It’s about fellowship. Friendship. Little people just like you.

Tolkien in the movie Tolkien, 2019

All quotes in the above post are taken from Tolkien, the 2019 film,

Ratings in a Glimpse:

  • Entertainment Value: 4.5 of 5
  • Aesthetic Quality: 5 of 5
    • Story: 3.75 of 5
    • Characters: 2.75 of 5
    • Acting: 5 of 5
    • Visuals: 5 of 5
  • Content:
    • Sexual: None, kissing
    • Language: Light and rare
    • Violence: Light to Moderate – a few realistic WWI scenes that can be frightening to younger audiences
  • Morality: 5 of 5
  • Recommended?
    • Yes.

Overall Conclusion: 4 of 5 ~ A very poetic biopic of Tolkien’s early years’ influences on his creation of Middle Earth (The TCBS, Edith Bratt, Oxford, and The Great War). While the film probably ages well for aesthetic reasons, it falls short on real character development and dialogue depth.

Thanks for Reading!

Are you interested in seeing TOLKIEN after reading my review? Have you seen this movie? What do you think of it? What are your thoughts on beautiful movies that sadly fall short when it comes to real character depth and development? I’d love to talk it over with you or hear any other comments/questions you may have.

16 thoughts on “Tolkien, 2019 // Movie Review

  1. Ah! Nicely done! I’m still not super interested in seeing the biopic, as I have an aversion to modern interpretations of historical fiigures/events. XP. But I’m glad it was at least solidly done. *nods*

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for reading! Ah- gotcha! 🙂 I completely understand. It’s taken me years but I’ve learned to separate films vs. factual historical events/figures as well as artists vs. their artwork.
      But I did appreciate this movie’s efforts. 🙂 I mean, the guy’s a legend. More people should know about what made him great, right?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely review.

    And, hmmm. I’m STILL not sure if I want to watch this or not – probably not, just because there is much to watch and little time in which to watch it and one must prioritize?

    The aesthetics sound lovely, and I’m glad they captured the essence of Tolkien and his young years and friendship and the Somme so well…that all sounds wonderful. But beautiful aesthetics + character development and dialogue that falls short…well. Dialogue is THE THING for me in movies, usually. And characters are the other thing. So. Argh.
    It makes me realise that creating a good work of art – specifically a good movie – is HARD. You have limited time and a whole lot to convey and you’ve got to do it both effectively and artistically and…you’re not given that much to work with, when it comes down to it, in the character development department. And your dialogue must serve a double purpose – both develop the characters and be good, compelling dialogue. I have so much respect for people who manage to make all-around excellent films that do ALL these things. (And yet I still can’t help curling my lip at films that don’t, because, well, I want a work of art. I know it’s hard, but that’s still what I want, and I’m disappointed if I don’t get it.)
    I think I’m still glad this movie was made, though, even if I don’t watch it. It sounds like they nailed the aesthetics and some of the substance, and that’s worthwhile.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gotcha! I waited for quite a while before I watched it – my library happened to have a copy available to borrow. I’m glad I watched it, but it’s not truly epic enough to be a Must Watch. 🙂

      I completely agree with you about dialogue in movies. And about how it’s so sadly too rare… (Thankfully I watched Ford v. Ferrari recently and the dialogue in that movie was almost perfection. 🙂

      Thank you for your lovely comment – truly appreciate knowing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I went and saw this movie in the theater with my dad last year, and including us, there were only three people in that theater room. o.o Kind of crazy.
    I agree with all of your points that you made about this movie! And I’d love to see a tv miniseries or movie focusing on his late life/friendship with C.S. Lewis. *nods*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. Unfortunately I did notice that TOLKIEN did not make enough to even pay off the budget.
      Thank you, Kendra, for reading my review and for the lovely comment! 🙂 I think you’re the first I’ve known to have actually seen the movie.
      Absolutely. There are so many great and worthwhile stories to tell out there via film that have been badly neglected!

      Liked by 1 person

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