I've never been enthralled with the idea of discovering more about the early pre-'Lord of the Rings' life of J.R.R.Tolkien but if there be any who are, this film (made emphatically without the approval of his family) attempts to sketch in those events and influences before he became the cult figure he attained prior to his death in 1973, and bursting into worldwide acclaim as a result of the two Peter Jackson 'Ring' and 'Hobbit' film trilogies. I knew some vague details of his younger years though not so as to have me hankering after more information.
Born South Africa, brought up in English Midlands, schooled in Birmingham, orphaned at 12, (his boyhood self played by Harry Gilby) his mother-appointed guardian is a Roman Catholic priest (Colm Meaney) - and, as now played by Nicholas Hoult, he then attends Exeter College, Oxford University where he forms a clique with three other similar-aged male undergraduates and meets the young woman (Lily Collins) who turns out to be the love of his life. His aptitude for languages (esp. Old English and Finnish) is recognised by a surly professor (Derek Jacobi, in pic above, right) whom he seeks to ingratiate - but then World War One breaks out and he finds himself fighting at the Somme. The whole film is punctuated with short scenes around that battle, both premonitionary and recollective, his traumatic experiences giving rise to some of the disturbing imagery,, including scenes of mass slaughter utilised in his magnum opus.
It's not a film with which I felt deeply engaged. It might have been different if I'd been a great admirer of his works (I've read LOTR four times so far) but although I've found them passably entertaining they've never really gripped me to anything like the extent to which some are fanatical about them.
I'm sure that Nicholas Hoult is a capable actor but he has such nondescript looks that I found myself asking over and over which one he was.
Finnish Director Dome Karukoski (the disappointing 'Tom of Finland' 2017) does what is required with a story which, though not exactly ordinary, didn't grab me at all.
The film only came really alive for me at one point where he tried to take his girlfriend to the opening of Wagner's 'Ring' cycle and finding all the cheap seats sold out, they smuggled themselves into an adjacent store area in the theatre to listen through the walls. But that was for me the sole memorable scene.
I think you need to be a genuine Tolkien fan to get much out of this. It's only of interest in the light of what we know comes later (we see him writing the very first sentence of 'The Hobbit', but that's all). I can't think of any other reason to make you want to see it..................5.