Exploring the formative years of the renowned author J.R.R Tolkien's (Nicholas Hoult) life, Finnish director Dome Karukoski focuses on Tolkien’ journey from from his childhood with brother Hilary in a Birmingham orphanage to his days studying at Oxford university. Within this narrative are explored three interlinked themes: first is one of friendship, as Tolkien forms lasting bonds with fellow pupils in boisterous scenes that recall the thirst for art and life in Dead Poets Society; second is one of love, the young Tolkien falling for fellow boarder Edith Bratt (Lily Collins), a romance that is pure and enduring; and the third one of creative endeavour, as Tolkien evolves from academic to author, not always an easy transition.
Within this linear life story are cross-cut harrowing scenes from Tolkien’s brutal experiences on the battlefields of the Somme during World War I. This is where Karukoski’s film particularly impresses, raging flames transform into dragons and monsters, death never more than moments away due to the seamless visions of cinematographer Lasse Frank Johannessen and VFX supervisor Rupert Davies.
"This is still a sympathetic and sensitive portrait of the novelist as a young man, evolving his creative vision. If you want to know where Bilbo Baggins came from, this is a good place to start". - The Independent
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