New Tolkien biopic rings hollow with his family
They make it clear they aren't at all happy about the film, starring Nicholas Hoult, which takes a fair deal of artistic licence
The family of JRR Tolkien has issued a rare public statement disavowing a new biopic about his life.
Ahead of the film’s release, the Tolkien Estate said they had no part in its making and “do not endorse it or its content in any way”.
Tolkien focuses on the author’s formative years, before he wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In the words of the publicity material, it traces “how the young Tolkien transformed from a lonely orphan into one of the great storytellers of all time”, and stars Nicholas Hoult.
It explores Tolkien’s relationship with Edith Bratt, who went on to become his wife and the inspiration for some of his characters, and his “fellowship” with three schoolfriends who would enlist together in World War 1.
Tolkien’s time on the Western Front is portrayed as the hellish inspiration for his fantasy writing, with explosions transformed in his mind into fire-breathing dragons.
The makers of the film did not invite the Tolkien family to participate, and some artistic licence is in evidence. The statement reads: “The family of JRR Tolkien and the Tolkien Estate are aware of the Fox Searchlight motion picture entitled Tolkien that is due for release in May 2019.
“The family and the Estate wish to make clear that they did not approve of, authorise or participate in the making of this film. They do not endorse it or its content in any way.”
Sources said the family had turned down previous approaches to dramatise the author’s life, and were concerned that the title of this film might suggest it is in some way authorised.
The literary executor of the Tolkien estate is his son, Christopher, who lives in France and is fiercely protective of his father’s name. He has given only one interview in 50 years, to the newspaper Le Monde, in which he said that the Tolkien legacy was the source of “intellectual despair”.
“I could write a book on the idiotic requests I have received,” he said then.
He loathed the Lord of the Rings blockbusters made by Peter Jackson, dismissing them as “an action movie for people aged 15 to 25”. Tolkien sold the film rights in 1969 for £100,000, as a way of raising money to help his children pay future inheritance tax.
The author died in 1973. The film franchise became one of the highest-grossing of all time and the estate sued for a share of the profits, reaching a settlement in 2009.
The new film, which opens on May 3, takes liberties with some facts. In one of the most dramatic moments, Tolkien discovers on the eve of his departure for the Somme that Edith is engaged to another man (the couple were reluctantly separated by his guardian, a Catholic priest, who believed the relationship was keeping Tolkien from his academic studies).In reality, she accepted Tolkien’s proposal in 1913 and they were married by the time he left for the Front.
The film’s director, Dome Karukoski, has said Tolkien is not a standard biopic. Lily Collins, who plays Edith, said she was excited by the opportunity “to take what could have been just a period drama and flip it on its head, to make it something both more creative and more human”.
John Garth, author of Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth, said he hoped audiences would enjoy the film as a work of fiction and that some would go on to explore further by reading a biography.He said: “Artistic licence is important, and movies understandably compress and streamline because there is only so much that can be shown in two hours. But the truth is generally more interesting.”– Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)