Film Review: TOLKIEN (USA 2019)

Tolkien Poster

Tolkien explores the formative years of the orphaned author as he finds friendship, love and artistic inspiration among a group of fellow outcasts at school.


Dome Karukoski

J. R. R. Tolkien (pronounced tol-keen, as Tolkien’s professor’s pronunciation is corrected), the LORD OF THE RINGS / HOBBIT famous author whose books have been made even more famous by the Peter Jackson films is the subject of the new bio-pic of the same name.  The film traces the story of the author’s life and includes the influences on the books.  Those familiar with the books will find the film more fascinating than others, who might treat the exercise as another period piece bio-pic.  TOKIEN is a handsomely mounted period piece production though be it a dull one at that, the film often trudging through the narrative just Tolkien the soldier makes through the mud of the trenches on the western front during World War I.

The film’s core has Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) sick with trench fever fighting in World War I at the Battle the Somme.  Tolkien holds the rank of lieutenant.  With the aid of a faithful soldier, a diminutive Sam (Craig Roberts) who helps him search for a friend of his TCBS (Tea Club and Barrovian Society)  club fellowship.  The film cuts to Tolkien’s life from childhood, living and playing the lush green English countryside (in the Midlands) to his schooling and friendship with four others fellow artists that they swear ‘to change the world through art’ together. Tolkien also falls in love with Edith Brett (Lily Collins), but is prevented from seeing her by his Guardian, Father Francis Morgan (Colm Meaney).  It is a choice of education over romance that the Father decides for Tolkien but the couple’s bond of romance remains strong.

While Tolkein’s life unfolds, director Karukowski constantly reminds the audiences of the influences on his writing.  These includes his war experiences, his brotherhood (hence ‘The Brotherhood of the Rings’), Sam, Tolkien’s friend in the trenches is like Grodo’s best buddy in the books and the beauty of the countryside akin to the beauty of the shire where the Hobbits live.  But the film is a slow march, the film often lingering at the landscape, scenery and sets tab on the emotions of the characters.  The film’s war segments which transforms into fire as breathed out from the mouth of dragons s in the Lord of the Rings stories look a desperate attempt at connecting the author’s experiences to his writing.  Tolkien’s aptness at the creation of his own unique language takes enables him to complete his Oxford studies under Professor Wright (Derek Jacobi) is yet another influence,

Finnish director Dome Karukowski, one of the most famous directors of his country has been chosen to do this bio, as he has done bios before, most notably TOM OF FINLAND his previous film that was Finland’s entry for the Best Foreign Film Academy Award though it did not make the short list.  It was not a very good film, short of passion and inspiration which the director has ensured does not happen again in TOLKIEN.  Still, Karukoski fails to engage his audience, due primary from the uncomfortable intercutting of the world War scenes with the rest of his story.  Just when the audience is drawn into the story, the film shifts to the trenches.

Irish actor Colm Meaney (who usually plays comedy) delivers a solid and serious portrayal of Father Francis Morgan who restricts Tolkien’s freedom.  His character is reminiscent of one of directors Karukowski’s previous character in THE GRUMP, one of his other films that made North American distribution.

The film is ultimately properly concluded with titles that summarize what director Karukoski had been attempted to do with his film.  Too bad all that all these should have been made clear without the titles.


Film Review: THE JOURNEY (UK 2016) ***

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THE JOURNEY.jpgA fictional account of the extraordinary story of two implacable enemies in Northern Ireland.

Director: Nick Hamm
Writer: Colin Bateman
Stars: Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, John Hurt

Review by Gilbert Seah
Who would think that former enemies Rev. Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness nicknamed ‘The Chuckling Brothers’ would remain friends for life after their meeting that finally resulted in the long awaited peace in Northern Ireland. No more bombings! No more bullets! Director Hamm underlines the violence as the film starts.

Nick Hamm’s THE JOURNEY is a dramatization about how these two two political opposites came together to change the course of history – an event that resulted in the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin (the political party of the Irish Republican Army) signing a 2006 agreement, bringing peace to Northern Ireland after nearly 40 years of violence.

Hamm’s journey is basically a two-handler, performed by two actors, one known for his humour the Irish Colm Meaney (THE SNAPPER) and the other for his dead seriousness, Timothy Spall (the Mike Leigh films). Most of the scenes involve banter between both of them. The film imagines a trip in a minivan where the two sort out their differences, come to an agreement and finally bring peace to the different groups. It is a real event though that minivan trip was imagined, as written in the script by Colin Bateman. The real trip took pace in an airplane. But the facts remain true. The reason the film changed the venue is not given but the change offers a visual treat, with lush greenery and rocky shores seen through rain-splattered windows. The drive was to the airport in Glasgow, Scotland.

Spall and Meaney are a pleasure to watch. Other British actors in the film include the late John Hurt (THE ELEPHANT MAN) as M15 boss Harry Patterson and Toby Stephens as Prime Minister Toby Stephens. Freddie Highmore has a small but mischievous role as the chauffeur, a British agent in disguise.

Director Hamm takes his time to set up the stage for the action when the two are finally the car and talking. The chauffeur, through his head set, is prompted to instigate the conversation. It is comical to see two grown men behaving just like children, fighting and wanting their own way. The conversation starts when McGuinness’s mobile is unable to get a signal but Paisley refuses to lend his. Bateman’s script, which imagines the actual conversation involves lots of funnily one-liners and rebuttals. The script is also believable in the way the ice is broken and the two eventually get talking. At the same time, hatred, humour and hard-nosed stubbornness are on full display.

They is a little film that documents a real life-changing event through imagined conversation. It is an entertaining exercise that also reflects strength overcoming the weaknesses of the human character in the strife for the good of mankind. But at the time of writing this review, problems are beginning to resurface again as observed in the recent news.


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Happy Birthday: Colm Meaney

colmmeaney.jpgHappy Birthday actor Colm Meaney

Born: May 30, 1953 in Dublin, Ireland

Married to: Ines Glorian (15 March 2007 – present)

Read reviews of the best of the actor:

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