Towards the end of November, The LA Times published an exclusive report that a Tolkien biopic is currently being written. “Tolkien led a complicated and colorful life,” the report notes. Surely people will be interested, right?
Honestly, I’m not so sure. Yes, Tolkien did fight in World War I (at the Battle of the Somme, no less, one of the most infamous battles of WWI). Yes, he did have a romance that later inspired one of the most central stories of Middle-earth. And, yes, he did achieve unexpected fame in his elder years. All of these events could make for good cinema, but I’m not so sure that his entire life would be of much interest to modern audiences.
For most of his life, Tolkien was very retiring. After he married Edith, very few “exciting” things happened to him until LOTR was published some forty years later. He taught, wrote, and graded papers. Not exactly thrilling.
What concerns me the most is the portrayal of Tolkien’s less relatable sides. Many have said that he was negligent of his wife–and sometimes even insensitive to her needs. He was deeply, devoutly Catholic. He was pessimistic, especially about the modern world. It would take a skillful screenwriter and director to make these aspects of Tolkien’s personality acceptable to modern audiences.
All that being said, do think there’s a market for a Tolkien biopic. I believe people will show up in the theater to watch it (if it ever gets a theatrical release), but I’m not sure how much they’ll enjoy it. Of course, all of this assumes that the movie will ever go into production and be released. Knowing Tolkien’s estate, there’s an excellent chance that this project will be stopped before it ever goes into pre-production.
Photo Credit: John O’Nolan