New Clip From “Tolkien”

This movie does seem to be getting more appealing to me – though this clip, which was released today by Empire, is somewhat conflicting. On the one hand, it has beautiful background music, which helps the dialogue immensely; the spoken words seem to flow around melodiously in a rhythm, the effect of which would almost be hypnotic if it weren’t for the fact that the interaction between J.R.R Tolkien and Edith Bratt here seemed so peculiarly awkward! I mean, yes, their interruptions and mumbling does lend to the interest of the scene, but it doesn’t seem to work entirely. Tolkien himself (played by Nicholas Hoult) seems a little self-absorbed – when Edith (Lily Collins) tells him she has thought of a name for a character in a story, he corrects her: “It’s not a name,” he says. “It’s something else.”

He’s referring to the fact that, in his invented language, the word Edith has created is a place-name. But the line delivery sounds too sharp, too abrupt.

Similarly, at the opening of the scene, the back-and-forth between the two seems less romantic than it does snippy. Edith pushes Tolkien to tell her a story, but can only persuade him when she gives him the choice of doing it “in any language”. Once things get moving and Tolkien starts showing off his incredible imagination, the whole scene gets much better, but the dialogue between the two feels like it could have been toned down just a little. Tolkien is currently coming off somewhat impolite – not entirely rude, but very secluded and private. Edith is much more relatable: she’s clearly fascinated by Tolkien’s intellect and her eyes are wide with wonder as Tolkien explains that the name she created (which,  by the way, is just the words “cellar door”) properly belongs to an ancient place, almost impossible to reach, but held in reverence by those who find it. “Oh, is it now?,” Edith says: proving she, too, seems to have a tendency to cut in at just the wrong moment.

Tolkien, however, is by now lost in his imagination: he talks about the shrine at the heart of this magical place, and how it is marked by – and there he pauses suddenly, and the music gently trembles around him. This is the best moment in the clip. Tolkien is on the brink of saying that this place was marked by the Elves, the legendary people who inhabit much of his invented world. But he stops, staring dreamily into space, and says – “by trees.”

In a way, the idea that the trees were responsible for this place’s magic would not be alien to Tolkien – he revered trees, and would often stop to stare at them for very long times when he was out walking. Some of his most notable characters are the Ents, the tree-shaped forest dwellers who rise up against industrialism in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Magical trees populate Middle-earth, from the enchanting mellyrn of Lórien to the Forest of Nightshade in Beleriand. So for a moment I was actually caught off guard by this line, and didn’t realize that it was meant to be a substitute for Elves. When I did realize, and re-watched the whole scene, the magic is indeed much more noticeable – but the interactions between Edith and John might have needed just a little more work.

All in all, the scene is quite good: the focus on Tolkien’s linguistic and philological skills is delightful. The use of the phrase “cellar door” to drive the scene is wonderful: Tolkien once said that the word “cellar door” was one of the most beautiful in the English language. The music is just perfect (honestly, the music is so good: very Elven). And the acting from Hoult and Collins is, for the most part, really good – I just think certain lines could have been edited slightly for an even better effect. I would be lying, though, if I said that this brief clip didn’t make me more excited than any Avengers: Endgame trailer. The truth is, I am wildly hyped for Tolkien, and I’m giving it all the benefit of the doubt for now.

Trailer Rating: 7.9/10

2 Replies to “New Clip From “Tolkien””

  1. Maybe their relationship was a bit less romantic than we want to believe it was? based on all the romance in his books, there is still a surprising lack of romance also in them

    1. The love story of Tolkien and Edith Bratt is one of the most beautiful the world has ever known, really: he based both Arwen and Luthien on her, and she converted to Catholicism to be with him, after it became clear that Tolkien’s legal guardian would never allow them to be together. The names of Beren and Luthien, the star-crossed lovers of the First Age, are inscribed on their shared grave. I think their relationship had its ups and downs, as any relationship does, but there’s no doubt they loved each other deeply. Perhaps this scene just isn’t focused as much on their romance, and that’s why they both seem a bit snippy with each other. I’m just nervous: I’ve got very high expectations, and I don’t want to be let down!

Go ahead, disagree with me (or agree, that's cool, too)