Tolkien Parent Guide
A heartfelt, personal story about the early years of one of the twentieth century's greatest fantasy writers.
Parent Movie Review
Nicolas Hoult shines as John Ronald Ruel Tolkien, a troubled orphan born in South Africa, navigating the socially complex world of British private schools and the usual struggles of adolescence and early adulthood. Eventually he gathers together a cadre of like-minded friends who call themselves the “Tea Club and Barrovian Society” – a group dedicated to using art to change the world. But Tolkien’s problems aren’t over: he also finds himself infatuated with a young woman named Edith who lives in the boarding house he shares with his brother. And academics are challenging; even a man of Tolkien’s brilliance struggles to maintain his scholarship to Oxford. Come 1914, everything he knows is threatened by the outbreak of the Great War- will he be able to hold on to everything he has found in the conflict?
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure if my lifelong obsession with Tolkien’s work is the reason that I enjoyed this film so much or if it is a fine movie on its own merits. But I’d argue that the film is objectively good, based on the following criteria.
First, the writing manages to be entertaining without becoming comedic. Characters have interesting and meaningful conversations without lengthy exposition or clunky foreshadowing, but also avoid coming off as pure comic relief. The characters change and grow in ways that feel natural, and better yet, relevant to the plot.
Secondly, the casting is very well done. Nicholas Hoult should be commended for the fastidious, slightly nervous portrayal of one of the biggest linguistic geniuses of the century, but he isn’t alone in his performance. Colm Meaney and Derek Jacobi are both excellent, to the point where I found myself bemoaning their comparatively short screen-time. Finally, Lily Collins animates the sole substantial female character of the story and makes her feel alive and vibrant.
As far as parental concerns go, the primary issues with Tolkien are violence and alcohol use, neither of which should trouble teen viewers. The violence is well contextualized in WWI and is portrayed very negatively. That said, it can be intense, and some scenes are too frightening for small children (who would likely be bored by the slow story anyway). The alcohol use mostly takes the form of social drinking between schoolmates. While this isn’t commendable, it also isn’t glamorized.
Obviously, the film isn’t perfect. If you’re not a Tolkien fan, you may find it slow and comparatively uninteresting (although I’d argue that, Tolkien being one of the most influential writers in modern history, the film is pretty compelling on its own merits). If you’re looking for a new take on The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, this is not the film for you. In fact, specific references or quotations from Tolkien’s work are so thin on the ground that I doubt the film had the rights to use them. That said, this heartfelt personal story is absolutely worth a trip out to the movies. Just remember: It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.Directed by Dome Karukoski. Starring Lily Collins, Nicholas Hoult, and Genevieve O'Reilly. Running time: 112 minutes. Theatrical release May 10, 2019. Updated June 24, 2019
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Rating & Content Info
Why is Tolkien rated PG-13? Tolkien is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for some sequences of war violence
Violence: Throughout the film, there are scenes set during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. As such, there are images of individuals being shot, shelled, lit on fire with flamethrowers, gassed, and stabbed. There are sporadic shots of dead bodies in pools of blood. An individual is punched in the chest.
Sexual Content: Minor kissing and embracing.
Profanity: A half dozen terms of deity are used, along with one scatological term, an anatomical expression, a handful of mild obscenities, and some name-calling.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Characters are frequently shown drinking socially. On one occasion, a character becomes seriously intoxicated to cope with an emotionally difficult turn of events.
Page last updated June 24, 2019
Tolkien Parents' Guide
Tolkien faces significant challenges during his early years – social struggles, academic failure, opposition in his courtship of Edith, service at the front in World War I. But many of those challenges later recur as elements in his writings. Have you ever had times where difficult experiences have enriched you later in your life by making you stronger, or more empathetic, or by expanding your perspective? Does this help you deal with current problems in your life?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
Any fan of J R R Tolkien will want to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. But their Middle Earth lore won’t be complete without also reading Middle Earth’s founding myths in The Silmarillion. Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales also gives more background to his mythical world.
Readers who enjoy fully realized fantasy worlds can turn to The Chronicles of Narnia, written by Tolkien’s friend, C S Lewis.
For those interested in biographies of British writer’s formative years, Boy is Roald Dahl’s autobiography, and is surprisingly engaging.
Related home video titles:
The movie trilogy, The Lord of the Rings provides an immersive visit to Tolkien’s imagined world. We recommend the extended editions for the maximum Tolkien experience.
The Chronicles of Narnia:The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobeis an adaptation of one of the books written by CS Lewis, a friend of Tolkien’s.
For a humorous take on fantasy, try Stardust. This film combines fantasy, adventure, romance, and comedy in one entertaining package.
Ladyhawke is fantasy for those who love a poignant romance, a chivalrous hero, derring-do, and some comic relief.