The family and estate of JRR Tolkien have fired a broadside against the forthcoming film starring Nicholas Hoult as a young version of the author, saying that they “do not endorse it or its content in any way”.
Out in May, and starring Hoult in the title role and Lily Collins as his wife Edith, Tolkien explores “the formative years of the renowned author’s life as he finds friendship, courage and inspiration among a fellow group of writers and artists at school”. Directed by Dome Karukoski, it promises to reveal how “their brotherhood strengthens as they grow up … until the outbreak of the first world war which threatens to tear their fellowship apart”, all of which, according to studio Fox Searchlight, would inspire Tolkien to “write his famous Middle-earth novels”.
On Tuesday morning, the estate and family of Tolkien issued a terse statement in which they announced their “wish to make clear that they did not approve of, authorise or participate in the making of this film”, and that “they do not endorse it or its content in any way”.
A spokesperson for the estate told the Guardian that the statement was intended to make its position clear, rather than heralding future legal action.
John Garth, author of the biography Tolkien and the Great War, said he felt the estate’s response to the film was “sensible”.
“Biopics typically take considerable licence with the facts, and this one is no exception. Endorsement by the Tolkien family would lend credibility to any divergences and distortions. That would be a disservice to history,” he said. “As a biographer, I expect I’ll be busy correcting new misconceptions arising from the movie. I hope that anyone who enjoys the film and is interested in Tolkien’s formative years will pick up a reliable biography.”
Tolkien’s estate has been careful to protect his legacy. In 2009, his heirs settled a multimillion-pound lawsuit over royalties from the Lord of the Rings films. In 2011, the estate took legal action over a novel called Mirkwood: A Novel About JRR Tolkien, which used the author as a central character. The American author of the book, Stephen Hillard later went to a Texas district court to seek a declaration that he had a right to publish under the first amendment. The case was later settled when Hillard agreed to add the disclaimer: “This is a work of fiction which is neither endorsed nor connected with The JRR Tolkien Estate or its publisher.”
And in 2012, the estate also took legal action over gambling games featuring Lord of the Rings characters, saying that it was “causing irreparable harm to Tolkien’s legacy and reputation and the valuable goodwill generated by his works”.
Christopher Tolkien, the author’s son, has made clear his antipathy to further films, telling Le Monde in 2012 that “Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed by the absurdity of our time”, and that “the commercialisation has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing”.
Peter Jackson, the director of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings films, has previously said that he thought it was unlikely any more films would be made because they couldn’t happen without the estate’s cooperation. But in 2017 the estate sold rights to a new Lord of the Rings television series to Amazon for $250m, beating Netflix to the deal. It is expected that Amazon may invest as much as $1bn in the multi-series adaption, which will be based on “previously unexplored stories based on JRR Tolkien’s original writings” and not just the narrative covered in the Lord of the Rings.
Fox Searchlight has been contacted for comment.
Source: The Guardian