“Tolkien”, is about the famous fantasy author (who would make sure you know that the right way to pronounce his name is “Toll-keen”) and how he grew up and learned to value “fellowship”. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien has a rough start in life, with a dead father, and soon also a dead mother. He and his younger brother became wards to the Catholic Church, but because of a forward-thinking priest, Tolkien gets a classical education and gets into Oxford. But after being sidelined with World War I, he gets to marry his true love. He gains stature as a Professor at the college, and eventually writes some very large books. But ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ do not make a big dent in this movie, because it ends about the time that he starts on them…
Young J.R.R. Tolkien and his mother and brother are helped by the parish priest Father Morgan (Colm Meaney). He makes sure that they have a home after their father passes away. But soon after his mother is also gone, and the two boys are put into a nice foster home. Tolkien at first finds it hard to make friends, but he soon makes several lifelong friends. When he grows up Mr. Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) is able to get into Oxford. He knows a fellow orphan in his foster home named Edith Bratt (Lily Collins) and believes that she will be the love of his life. Tolkien and his chums have raucus talks and arguments about deep subjects. They form a “fellowship” of sorts, and hold fast to be true to each other. Edith also becomes a part of his life, and when he enters college, his grades suffer.
Oxford is ready to pitch Tolkien out of school, because he is not living up to the highest of standards. But he happens to meet Professor Wright (Derek Jacobi) who is a specialist in languages. Tolkien manages to convince the Professor that he has the same love of language and for the origins of speech. He is able to impress the Professor with some made-up languages that Tolkien created for his own writing. Tolkien is able to thrive in the new class setting, and he and Edith are very happy. He feels that the world is ready for a new saga that is a great and as far-reaching as the opera Wagner created “The Ring Cycle”. But before that can happen, World War I breaks out. Tolkien and his three friends are signed up and enlisted in a short time.
Tolkien spends time at the front in Somme. In the trenches, he puts all of creative spirit on hold. The War is horrible, and he sees many people injured and killed. Tolkien is infected with trench fever, and he spends time searching for one of his friends on the front lines. With his feverish mind, he looks out on the No Man’s Land area and imagines what the fight between good and evil might look like. Shadowy black wraiths hover over the battlefield, as armored knights gallop in the dead trees out on the landscape. Dragons roar across the sky as thunderous booms rain down on the broken land. Tolkien is seeing those images that he would eventually put down onto paper in his later books.
Nicholas Hoult does a very decent job in portraying Tolkien, and he does the man justice. He shows a lot of compassion and smarts as a young brilliant writer. But he and Lily Collins do not have a lot of energy together in their scenes. The story is a bit of a see-saw back and forth from Tolkien’s war time activity, to a flashback set of sequences of his prior life.