The 2019 film Tolkien, which is now available to stream on HBO, does not tell the stories of elves, orcs, wizards, or hobbits. Instead, it tells the story of the man who dreamed up those stories: John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, aka J.R.R. Tolkien. Skins alum Nicholas Hoult stars as the beloved author, while Lily Collins co-stars as Tolkien’s future wife, Edith Bratt.
Perhaps wisely, most of the film takes place before Tolkien ever put pen to paper. (Watching people write stuff is boring!) Instead, the film opens on Tolkien’s childhood as a young boy being raised by a single mother in Birmingham, England. If you’re picturing an idyllic childhood montage, try again: The Tolkiens were a poor, struggling family, and when Tolkien’s mother fell ill, she never recovered. The young author-to-be was taken in by a local priest, a kind, wealthy woman who agreed to look after him and his brother. It’s there that Tolkien first met Edith, and the two became childhood friends.
From there, we follow Tolkien into young adulthood, where he eventually attends the University of Oxford and fights in World War I. It’s not until the very final scene of the film that we witness his inspiration for the book that would later be read and loved by millions of children and adults alike: The Hobbit.
Directed by Finnish filmmaker Dome Karukoski and written by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford, Tolkien first came to theaters in May 2019. The reviews from critics were mixed—currently, the film holds a rating of 51 percent on the review aggregation website, Rotten Tomatoes. But if you’re a diehard Lord of the Rings fan, the opinion of critics won’t matter. Tolkien will be worth the watch if only to give you insight into this brilliant writer’s life and mind.
Oh, and if you’re still waiting for that other Tolkien biopic, about his famous friendship with The Chronicles of Narnia author C.S. Lewis, you might be waiting a long time: There haven’t been any updates on the film since 2014. Sadly, Lewis is not a character in 2019’s Tolkien.
Still, there’s plenty of other magical material to cover without in getting into the Narnia of it all. Tolkien is sure to be a fun watch for any fantasy nerd, and, conveniently, it’s streaming on HBO.
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