TOLKIEN – Review by Susan Granger

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Having been besotted by J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, I was eager to see this literary origin biopic, hoping to learn what sparked his imagination and passion – but it’s a dull disappointment.

His story begins in 1916 in the muddy trenches of World War I, where shell-shocked second lieutenant Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) is searching for a friend during the bloody Battle of Sommes, while imagining German flamethrowers as fire-breathing dragons.

A flashback reveals that John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973) – pronounced “toll-keen” – was orphaned, along with his younger brother. Penniless, they were entrusted to Father Francis Morgan (Colm Meaney), who enrolled them in King Edward’s School in Birmingham and settled them in the home of elderly, rich Mrs. Faulkner (Pam Ferris).

That’s where shy Tolkien meets and falls in love with orphaned pianist Edith Bratt (Lily Collins), who introduces him to Wagner’s operas about “one ring to rule them all.” In turn, he charms Edith with his own invented language, a precursor of Elvish. So much for fanciful, foreshadowing Middle-earth parallels.

Alter winning a scholarship to Oxford, Tolkien finds three artistic/intellectual friends: Christopher Wiseman (Tom Glynn-Carney), Robert Quilter Gilson (Patrick Gibson) and Geoffrey Bache Smith (Anthony Boyle). These kindred spirits form a secret society called the T.C.B.S. – Tea Club and Barrovian Society – determined to “change the world through the power of art.”

Floundering in academia, Tolkien encounters philologist Joseph Wright (Derek Jacobi), who permits him to study linguistics, warning that invented words must have meaning as well as music – exactly what Edith told him years earlier. By then, Tolkien’s plummy career path is set.

Working from a serviceable, if stodgy script by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford, Finnish director Dome Karukoski has forsaken all fun to create an all-too-respectful, ethereal, lyrical bore.

Not surprisingly, Tolkien’s estate released a statement noting they “do not endorse it or its content in any way.” Understandably.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Tolkien” is a flaccid 5, a flimsy fellowship tale.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.