Review – One Author To Rule Them All (“Tolkien”)

Author John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, aka J.R.R. Tolkien, is well known to just about everyone, probably because of all the incredible movies made by director Peter Jackson. A certified genius in writing, Tolkien actually created 15 different Elvish dialects, along with languages for Ents, Orcs, Dwarves, and Hobbits. Astonishing!

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Told mostly in flashback, we first meet Lt. John (or sometimes he’s called Ronald) Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) in the ghastly French trenches of WWI where, aided by Sam (Craig Roberts), his back-packing private, tries to find his college school chum in all this horror. While navigating the bombs, fire, and enemy mustard gas, John recalls his days in England growing up with his younger brother, Hilary (Guillermo Bedward). But after their loving mother dies, the orphans are taken under the care of Father Francis Morgan (Colm Meaney) and sent to a prestigious boarding school in Birmingham.

It’s there that John meets his three life-long bestest buddies that will one day be the inspiration for his Hobbits: poet-at-heart Geoffrey Bache Smith (Anthony Boyle), class-clown Christopher Wiseman (Tom Glynn-Carney), and level-headed Robert Q. Gilson (Patrick Gibson). Together they form the Tea Club and Barrovian Society (or T.C.B.S.), and begin to “change the world” with their ideas. But John has other ideas, and her name is Edith Bratt (Lily Collins), a fellow orphan that lives in the same home as John and shares in his carefully constructed stories about magic, adventures, and inventing languages. The scene in the restaurant where John makes up a story on the fly is mesmerizing.

But you can’t have a story with a plot complication or two, and this one’s got plenty. There’s John’s troubles at school, his run-in with the law, his unrequited love with Edith tearing him apart, the famous language professor at college (Derek Jacobi) that may not let him into his class and, of course, the ‘war to end all wars’. Through all this turmoil, John always has his notes, drawings, Elfish languages, and pieces of a fantastic tale floating in the ether, just begging to be a novel. The movie, sadly, ends before any mention of Narnia author C.S  Lewis, how they met, or their amazing story with the Inkings Club.

Bio-pic’s can be a tricky thing, especially with the glut of them we’ve had lately, but screenwriters David Gleeson (Cowboys & Angels) and Stephen Beresford (Pride) have done justice to this one, making this lengthy film a richly told character study of the man and his early years. Sentimental, flavorful, and dripping with LOTR-related Easter eggs dropped in here and there, this isn’t so much THAT story about the books being made, but Tolkien’s friendship (fellowship, if you will), his true love, and his dogged perseverance that would shape his life and works forever.

Finnish director Dome Karuoksi beautifully plays this movie like a symphony, moving the action slowly and steadily to give each moment it’s due, and it’s there that you can appreciate the fine talents of Hoult, Collins, and the rest of the cast. A Fox Searchlight film, it doesn’t have the noticeable trappings of an overblown Hollywood picture. It’s smooth, deliberate, funny, poignant, and rich in texture. An excellent departure from all the massive superhero films this summer.           

Shakespeare In Love (1998)

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When one thinks of the Bard, you conjure thoughts of an old balding man that wrote 37 plays, many sonnets and poems… not a dashing handsome guy who has a severe case of writers block. Yup! It’s a rom-com, it’s a theater-primer, and a chance to see Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes light up the screen together.

It’s 1593 and Will Shakespeare is in a pickle. A part-time actor at the Rose Theater, he’s working on a new comedy called Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter. Yeah, catchy title there, Willy. Deciding to get help to stimulate him, he seeks out his rival, Christopher “Kit” Marlowe (Rupert Everett), but discovers his love, Rosaline (Sandra Reinton) is having an affair with Edmund Tilney (Simon Callow), the dastardly Master of the Revels.

Meanwhile, the lovely & wealthy Viola deLesseps (Paltrow), has seen Shakespeare’s plays at court, and disguises herself as a man named Thomas Kent to audition at the Rose. “He” peaks Shakespeare’s interest when he auditions with a speech from Two Gentleman From Verona. But like Cinderella, Viola runs away before Will can find out who he/she is. Undaunted, Will follows ‘Kent’ to Viola’s house and begs Thomas Kent to begin rehearsals at the Rose! Sneaking into the house that night, Will finds out that Viola’s parents are arranging her betrothal to Lord Wessex (Colin Firth), an impoverished aristocrat. After dancing with Viola, however, sparks fly, and Will is smitten but good.

Inspired, Shakespeare writes quickly, changing his ‘pirate’ play into Romeo & Juliet, with Thomas Kent as Romeo and a narcissistic Ned Alleyn (Ben Affleck) as Mercutio. Soon, Will discovers Kent’s secret identity, and the two begin a hidden love affair. There’s mistaken identity, jealous lovers on the warpath, sinister bad guys who want their share of the house profits, a delicious performance by Geoffrey Rush as a theater owner, rehearsals that go terribly wrong, Judi Dench making a cameo as the Queen of England and, as someone puts it, “a bit with a dog”. Hilarious.

With a wickedly strong script by prolific playwright Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman (Cutthroat Island), this movie works on SO many levels. True, it’s a rom-com about one of THE greatest authors ever born, but also it’s a full-tilt comedy about Will, his life, his passion for writing, how he steals events from around him to plug into his plays, and the crazy situations all around him. And Joseph Fiennes couldn’t be better as Will Shakespeare. He plays both the heart-broken playwright and lover, but also the madcap actor trying to make ends meet.

How good was this picture? Besides director John Madden winning Best Director, this movie also nabbed SIX more Oscars! For a rom-com, that’s impressive! It also grabbed SAG Awards, Golden Globes, BAFTA’s, and more. It was a box office monster and, believe it or not, enjoyed a short stint as a London theatrical stage play, under the Disney banner back in 2013. And no, it wasn’t a musical!

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