“Tolkien & Lewis,” which centers on the author’s relationship with his University of Oxford colleague C.S. Lewis, joins Fox Searchlight’s “Tolkien” and is aiming to court the faith-based audience with an Easter release
This story first appeared in the July 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
J.R.R. Tolkien‘s novels have been dramatic source material for filmmakers, and now the author’s own life is getting not one but two screen treatments. Chernin Entertainment is developing Tolkien for Fox Searchlight with a script from Irish writer David Gleeson, and now a smaller independent studio is aiming to beat that project into theaters. London- and Brisbane-based Attractive Films’ Tolkien & Lewis, to be directed by Simon West (The Expendables 2), is an $18 million feature financed via U.K. tax credits, presales and money raised by Wiggin Llp., a U.K. law firm that is an equity partner on the film. It’s aiming for an Easter release and will court the faith-based audience.
The story centers on Tolkien’s relationship with his University of Oxford colleague C.S. Lewis, whom Tolkien, a devout Catholic, converted to Christianity. The formerly agnostic Lewis’ newfound faith infused his most popular books, including The Chronicles of Narniaseries, while Lewis in turn encouraged Tolkien to finish his The Lord of the Rings volumes, which were decades in the making. Much of the movie takes place at the beginning of World War II, when Tolkien, a veteran of World War I, is haunted by memories of his fallen friends. Meanwhile, Lewis’ growing fame as an untrained theologian strains his relationship with Tolkien and his university job.
Soon, the two writers’ friendship is poisoned by jealousy, paranoia and creative and religious differences. “Lewis becoming the poster boy for Christianity upset Tolkien,” says Attractive principalWernher Pramschufer. “And obsessive genius Tolkien is blocked, terrified of finishing The Fellowship of the Ring, for fear of the strange, psychotic visions which torture him.”
Other Tolkien & Lewis producers include Mark Joseph (Reagan, Max Rose), Mark Cooper(Chocolat), Jib Polhemus (The Mechanic) and Charles Moore (The Eagle).
Theological JRR Tolkien biopic secures Expendables 2 director
Tolkien & Lewis will focus on relationship between Hobbit author and CS Lewis and is set for Easter 2015 release date to target faith audience,
Now a smaller independent movie, Tolkien & Lewis, will focus on his friendship with CS Lewis, author of the Narnia books. The Expendables 2’s Simon West will direct a movie that aims to target lucrative faith-based US audiences via an Easter release date.
Tolkien, a devout Catholic, was instrumental in re-introducing his previously agnostic friend to Christianity while the pair were academics at Oxford, prior to the second world war. But the pair later fell out over religious differences, as Lewis’s fame grew in theological circles.
“Lewis becoming the poster boy for Christianity upset Tolkien,” Wernher Pramschufer, of Tolkien & Lewis production company Attractive Films told the Hollywood Reporter. “And obsessive genius Tolkien is blocked, terrified of finishing The Fellowship of the Ring, for fear of the strange, psychotic visions which torture him.”
The popularity of films based on Tolkien’s work nevertheless suggests both biopics could find plenty of traction with audiences. Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy took more than $3bn (£1.7bn) across the globe, and the New Zealand film-maker’s current three-part adaptation of The Hobbit has so far taken almost $2bn (£1.16bn) with one film still to be released.
Though there’s only one instalment of The Hobbit film trilogy left to hit cinemas, it isn’t the last we’ll see of JRR Tolkien on the big screen. Two biopics, each covering different areas of the author’s life, are currently in production.
Tolkien is being developed by Chernin Entertainment for Fox Searchlight from a screenplay by David Gleeson, and will focus on his time at Oxford University and his experiences as a soldier during World War One.
Tolkien & Lewis, meanwhile, will have a more religious angle, focusing on the friendship and rivalry between the Lord of the Rings creator andNarnia writer CS Lewis. The two authors both taught at Oxford University, and Tolkien helped to convert the previously agnostic Lewis to Christianity. Religious themes became a major influence on Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, and the success and acknowledgement he received for his Christian writings strained the two writers’ friendship.
Tolkien & Lewis is a smaller, independent film with an $18 million budget, and is being produced by Attractive Films. Simon West, director of Con Air, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and The Expendables 2, has signed on to direct, with the film expected to arrive in Easter 2015.
Wernher Pramschufer, head of Attractive Films, said: “Lewis becoming the poster boy for Christianity upset Tolkien. And obsessive genius Tolkien is blocked, terrified of finishing The Fellowship of the Ring, for fear of the strange, psychotic visions which torture him.”
Attractive describes the movie as “a drama fantasy set in war torn Britain in 1941 revealing the faith, friendship, and rivalry between J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.”
The two writers had a lot in common: Both taught at Oxford, both fought in World War I, and both preferred not to spell out their names. Their relationship was friendly for years, but turned famously fraught. Through late-night conversations, Tolkien, a religious Catholic, convinced Lewis to return to the faith; Lewis’ writing took off afterward, and he’s now best known for his books that are instilled with Christian themes, like the Narnia series and The Screwtape Letters. But Lewis then became a much-criticized unofficial spokesman for Christianity, which strained his relationship with Tolkien and Oxford. And while Tolkien struggled over the Lord of the Rings manuscripts for years, Lewis’ Narnia books were bestsellers.
UK-based Attraction Films will produce a drama on the odd and turbulent relationship between authors C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien set in Britain during and after World War I.
Lewis wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, and Tolkien penned The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, all a smashing success. At a deeper level both men needed each other for these works. Lewis faltered in his faith, and Tolkien, a devote Catholic, helped lead Lewis back to God.
“Very few people knew that Tolkien and Lewis were friends and without the friendship, Lewis would have never become a Christian and become the world’s greatest Christian apologist.”
Tolkien, who struggled to write The Lord of the Rings, might have never written his book without an audience of one, Lewis. Tolkien never believed his work was good enough, said Pramschufer, and the film exposes their struggles.
“They both had human failings, like we all do. We show them in a very human and compassionate way. We’re not trying to deify them or pull them down or Hollywoodize them. We’re just trying to make this story as real as possible.”
Three years of research went into building the story. Information available from the public domain was used, not from any other published biography, Pramschufer explained.
“We took a timeline from when they were first born, through when they passed away and we noted every notable achievement. We plotted the two timelines together to see where interesting things coincided. Where we found the maximum interest in the story is when the two men were both writing their books and it became in a way—book wars.”
Directed by Simon West of The Expendables 2, the film will be released in 2015.