The Tolkien Estate are facing yet another battle with film-makers and producers wishing to reinterpret the author’s legacy. This time, the subject is Tolkien himself in a new biographical film released in cinema in May 2019, directed by Dome Karukoski and starring Nicholas Hoult as Tolkien. The film is set to portray Tolkien’s life before he wrote his works, known as the ‘Tolkien Legendarium’, tracing his life from childhood as an orphan to how he became “one of the greatest story-tellers of all time”.
According to The Telegraph, the makers of the film (Chernin Entertainment for Fox Searchlight) have not consulted the family on the production of the film. It was reported that “some artistic license” was present with a statement from the Tolkien family saying that “the family and the Estate wish to make clear that they did not approve of, authorise or participate in the making of this film”. Undoubtedly, this raises questions as to whether or not it is acceptable to dramatise the narrative of Tolkien’s life as a historical figure for cinema, especially without consulting those who were close to him.
Since this decision, the rights have been sold and resold, and a plethora of adaptations for film, theatre and even a TV animated musical have been produced for fans around the world, whether Tolkien liked it or not
Tolkien himself openly criticised certain adaptations made during his lifetime as mere shortcomings to his works, which is fair enough when you have spent so much of your lifetime imagining, writing, and developing a whole new kind of universe. Likewise, the Tolkien Estate are notorious in criticising the Lord of The Rings film trilogy directed by Peter Jackson as “an action movie for people aged 15 to 25”. But in 1968, Tolkien sold the film, stage and merchandise rights of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to United Artists for £100,000 which was “a way of raising money to help his children pay future inheritance tax”. Since this decision, the rights have been sold and resold, and a plethora of adaptations for cinema, theatre and even a TV animated musical have been produced for fans around the world, whether Tolkien liked it or not.
However, there is nothing new or outrageous in the developing adaptations which are based upon a novel for it can never be an exact reproduction of the novel in film unless the author themself is involved. The problem with Tolkien is that there are biographic exaggerations and inaccuracies which the Tolkien Estate are adamant they do not endorse. Nor do they like the fact that the title of the film might suggest it has been authorised by the family.
Fans who might exclusively be interested in Tolkien’s life and not the dramatised version of his experiences will have to dig a little deeper for the truth
This point means I retrace my thoughts, and consider it unacceptable to produce something which is historically inaccurate and inconsiderate of the real life led by Tolkien. Not only does it dramatise and exploit Tolkien’s success and his personal experiences for the sake of cinema, but it also means that fans who might exclusively be interested in Tolkien’s life and not the dramatised version of his experiences will have to dig a little deeper for the truth.
On the other hand, having considered Tolkien’s works as one of my favourite childhood memories, my attitude towards the biopic is intrigue. It would really animate the life of the author of such fantastic stories and draw the author into being an integral part of history itself. Tolkien had a role in history and many people’s lives, and documenting it can only be honourable, even if it cannot be strictly considered accurate.
In my mind, there is no doubt as to whether the biopic should or should not be made, but I’m somewhat disheartened to know that the film will not be an entirely accurate portrayal of his life for the sake of cinematic licence. Perhaps this will set the precedent for another more accurate, and thus more fulfilling, film about Tolkien’s life in the future and lead people to investigate his biography themselves. We have hundreds of adaptations of his works and after all, readers are already able to interpret his work themselves so this adaptation is essentially no different.