JRR Tolkien’s literary canon has inspired some of the highest-grossing and best-loved films of all time, but we have yet to see a film documenting the man himself. Until now.
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The extraordinary life of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is now being adapted for cinemas by Finnish director Dome Karukoski, and is set to navigate his formative years ahead of the outbreak of World War I.
Here’s everything you need to know about the upcoming film.
When is Tolkien released in cinemas?
Tolkien is scheduled to be released in theatres on 3rd May in the United Kingdom, with a limited release in the United States on 7th May. The film is then scheduled for wider release on 10th May.
The release date comes 18 months after photography for the film started, with Tolkien having wrapped in December 2017.
Who is in the cast of Tolkien?
Hoult admitted he “didn’t know much” about Tolkien before taking the role.
“It’s bizarre really, and I was thinking about it the other day,” Hoult told RadioTimes.com.
“I read the Hobbit when I was like 12, and his mythology to be so steeped in pop culture and everything that we know nowadays. And then suddenly I realised I knew nothing about the man and where those stories originated.
“I was like ‘Oh, that’s remarkable.’ And then reading his story, I was like he had the most incredible life. And we focussed on the early part of that in this film. But I just thought it was a wonderful, beautiful story.
“I was [pronouncing his name wrong] for years!” Hoult added. “I was saying Tol-KIN and then through learning about him for this I realised – it’s Tol-KEEN.
“I would walk around just saying Tol-keen, Tol-keen, Tol-keen, just sort of getting it natural in my head. It’s pretty important when you’re playing Tolkien, to know how to say Tolkien.”
Starring opposite Hoult is Lily Collins, who you may recognise as Fantine in BBC’s ambitious adaptation of Les Miserables.
Collins is billed to play Edith Bratt, a lifelong love of Tolkien who would eventually become his wife. Bratt is thought to have served as inspiration for the character Luthien Tinuviel from Tolkien’s epic poem The Silmarillion.
“Working with Lily Collins, and that romance, bringing that to screen was a real highlight,” Hoult told RadioTimes.com.
“These two orphans meeting and then falling in love and being together for the rest of their lives. If it wasn’t true you’d think it was almost too perfect.”
Elsewhere, Star Trek: Deep Space 9 actor Colm Meaney plays Father Francis Xavier Morgan, a hugely influential figure on a young Tolkien who preached forgiveness even in the darkest of times – themes that were made apparent in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy –while Derek Jacobi plays an Oxford professor of Philology who helps nurture the young Tolkien’s love of language.
Welsh actor Craig Roberts (22 Jump Street, Kill Your Friends) plays Sam; a soldier Tolkien develops a close friendship as they served in the trenches during the First World War. Sam is thought to have served as the inspiration for Frodo’s loyal companion Samwise Gamgee in Lord of the Rings.
Anthony Boyle (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), Patrick Gibson (The Tudors) and Tom Glynn-Carney (Dunkirk) are also billed to star as a young Tolkien’s “fellowship” of close friends.
What is Tolkien about?
Following Tolkien’s formative years in Birmingham and then Oxford University, the story shows how the writer becomes friends with a set of creatives at school, seeing them all develop a close bond.
The film follows his courtship with Edith Bratt, with the pair’s marriage abruptly interrupted by the advent of war. As he serves the British army, the horrors of what Tolkien saw served as inspirations for his beloved stories about Middle Earth.
Director Karukoski has since explained that this is a film he has wanted to make since he was a child himself.
“What struck me the most is that he lived an amazing life,” he said at WonderCon. “This beautiful, emotional story about love and friendship. So many things about what I had read about [in] the books, occurred or were instrumental in his own life. [The Tolkien film was] a film that had to be made.”
“I feel like the themes of this love and friendship and creativity and imagination and all those things are kind of inspiring, and I felt inspired learning about the man and then seeing what he created,” Hoult told us.
“So hopefully other people will feel the same.”
Is there a trailer for Tolkien?
Yes, interspersing Tolkien’s idyllic youthful days and fantasy sequences with the very real horrors of war. Watch the trailer below.
How historically accurate is Tolkien?
It’s hard to say, as we haven’t seen it yet.
What have the Tolkien estate say about the film?
They largely seem unimpressed. Having always been fiercely defensive over his work, the family have now said in a statement that they “did not approve or authorise” the making of the film.
“They do not endorse it or its content in any way,” it read.
John Garth, author of the biography Tolkien and the Great War, said he felt the estate’s response to the film was “sensible”, claiming he expected certain parts of the film to be fanciful.
“Biopics typically take considerable licence with the facts, and this one is no exception. Endorsement by the Tolkien family would lend credibility to any divergences and distortions. That would be a disservice to history,” he said to The Guardian. “As a biographer, I expect I’ll be busy correcting new misconceptions arising from the movie. I hope that anyone who enjoys the film and is interested in Tolkien’s formative years will pick up a reliable biography.”
Have the makers of Tolkien responded?
Fox Searchlight said in a statement that the studio was “so proud of Dome Karukoski’s film which focuses on the early years of Tolkien’s extraordinary life and does not depict subject matter from his novels”.
“While we did not work with the Tolkien estate on this project, the film-making team has the utmost respect and admiration for Mr Tolkien and his phenomenal contribution to literature.”
Speaking to RadioTimes.com, Hoult also revealed that at least one descendant of Tolkien did give the film his blessing.
“His great-grandson did come to set and was part of the World War One sequence, and came to the premiere last night, and I think liked the movie,” he said.
What books did Tolkien write?
As well as a selection of academic journals and poetry, Tolkien wrote a series of books centred around the fictional lands of Middle Earth.
His best known works are The Hobbit (published 1937) and the Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954-55), but other works include Farmer Giles of Ham, and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.
The Tolkien Reader, published in 1966, featured a collection of some of his plays and stories, including The Homecomin of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son and Leaf by Niggle, as well as his personal philosophies around fantasy tales titled On Fairy-Stories.