on 29 November 2005
Ever since Shadowlands came out in 1993 I have been captivated by it. The story of C.S Lewis; writer, academic and bachelor for 50 years who meets and eventually falls in love with American poet Joy Davidman, is a straightforward one. But it is a touching one.
Richard Attenborough has come in for a lot of (unjust) criticism as a director over the years, mainly by those who think his epics reach further than they can grasp. This film, perhaps his smallest, is one of his more applauded.
William Nicholson adapted his stage play for this project and the script maintains the basic love story, with some wisdom thrown in for good measure. Attenborough chose to cast Anthony Hopkins to replace the then "unkown to Americans" Nigel Hawthorn (a studio decision). Hopkins' speciality is restraint - a 'dormant volcano'. It serves the character of Lewis brilliantly here because he is containing love, emotion and feeling. It means that once he opens up towards the end of the film, you see a side of Hopkins that I for one have never seen before or since.
Debra Winger is well cast as the overbearing, uninhibited American Joy Gresham, as is her son Joseph Mazzello (whom Attenborough had previously worked with in Jurassic Park). And Edward Hardwicke is excellent as Lewis's brother, Warnie.
I think the reason this story works for me is that is a metaphor for being English (or was, anyway): the repressed type who won't open up to emotion - is afraid of change, and by the time he does change, it's too late and he feels the pain he so feared in the first place. What I like is the message that, 'it's part of life' and as the film says, "The pain now is part of the happiness then - that's the deal."
The film is 'based' on a true story because there are factual things that are changed for the film - like there being two sons not one, and the fact he was at Cambridge - but these can be overlooked.
The acting is great, the locations are quintessentially English, George Fenton's score is one of my favourites and Attenborough got his biggest recognition since Gandhi.
Unfortunately I look back on the film on this very simple DVD (with 2:35:1 widescreen, 2.0 sound - no extras) with nostalgia for that period. It seemed to be a more innocent and painless existance. But then I guess pain is relative.
I would recommend this film to an audience who have had to suffer the burden of losing someone to a long illness. It has a heart and a central message (which is stated a few times in the film). And hopefully it will appear more predominantly in retrospectives of Attenborough's career in years to come.
I've purposefully mentioned little about the plot because basically it's worth discovering as you go along.
Shadowlands is an old fashioned type of film - and the better for it. And, like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, it has something to say about the true nature of love and life.
I only rented this movie because I think Anthony Hopkins is an amazing actor and he didn't let me down.
He plays C.S Lewis, the author of the Narnia books among others. 'Jack' (as his brother calls him) is an ageing university lecturer in Oxford who lives with his equally single brother simply passing the time teaching people literature and belief in God. His life is routine and he is content.
One day he agrees to meet an American woman who is a fan of his work and has been writing him letters which he finds interesting. She asks him questions which provoke thought and isn't afraid to say what she feels/thinks. They develop a strong friendship and love over time only to have their feelings tested in the worst way.
The movie sounds drab when put that way but it unravels at a gentle (some may call it slow!) pace with a wonderful and witty dialog. There are several characters entwined in the background which give the movie more substance and ground work. To top it all off are the beautiful settings in which it is set.
A movie about true love and loss to touch anyones heart strings.
Definitely worth watching.
on 15 December 2003
There is nothing wrong with this film and many things right with it. The acting, scenery, cinematography, score, everything is perfect. Yet it is so much more.
I am reticent to name any film as an 'all time favourite', anyone who can say that has not seen enough cinema - but this is a film which could easily be mistaken for Sunday afternoon schmaltz and yet is in reality a masterpiece. Never have I watched this and failed to enjoy it, or become bored. The performances contain such subtle nuances and so much is going on without being obvious that even after multiple viewings it still holds the attention and creates its magic.
Purists may allow the artistic licence taken with the Lewis/Gresham story to detract from their enjoyment of the film, but this is no simple biopic. Nor is it, as many would like, a piece of evangelism for one of the 20th Century's great Christian thinkers. It is an examination of love, faith, and the experience of life. It is also about how we all deal with our emotions, hopes, dreams, and fears.
Yes, this borders on the fantastic, but then as my Father remarked after the 30th or so viewing - 'the 50's were never that good'.
on 6 January 2006
"I seem to play men who are sort of imprisoned in themselves," Anthony Hopkins comments in an interview included on this movie's DVD. And although this adequately characterizes a mere fraction of his work, roles like that of butler Stevens in Merchant/Ivory's adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's "Remains of the Day," Henry Wilcox in E.M. Forster's "Howards End" (also by Merchant/Ivory) and even Thomas Harris's Hannibal Lecter, illustrate Hopkins's minimalist approach to acting, which makes him so uniquely qualified to play emotionally restrained men, locked up behind the walls erected by convention, trauma or madness. Thus, while bearing little physical resemblance to the real C.S. Lewis, atheist-turned-Christian scholar and bestselling author of the famous "Narnia Chronicles," Hopkins was a natural choice for the role in this movie about Lewis and his wife-to-be, American poet Joy Gresham (Debra Winger).
Albeit subtitled "based on a true story," "Shadowlands" doesn't purport to recount the couple's relationship in its full complexity - that would take much more than a 2 hours, 15 minutes-long film, if it were accomplishable at all. On equally strong intellectual footing, Joy Gresham and "Jack" Lewis were bound to each other not only by a joint interest in literature and because Joy challenged all assumed bases of Lewis's scholarly life, but also by their personal geneses as convert Christians (he coming from atheism, she from Judaism, at least partly influenced by Lewis's writings). Obviously for reasons of dramatic streamlining, director Richard Attenborough and screenwriter William Nicholson - who adapted his play for the big screen after having already scripted the 1985 BBC production featuring Joss Acklund and Claire Bloom - chose to cut down on several facts and persons, such Joy Gresham's second son David (who is not mentioned at all), Lewis's 1954 move from Oxford's Magdalen College to similarly-named Magdalene College at Cambridge (likewise not included), the alcoholism of Lewis's brother Warren ("Warnie") (which is substantially downplayed, as is the abusiveness of Joy's first husband Bill Gresham) and Lewis's complicated friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien (who surprisingly is not at all among the featured Oxford scholars). Similarly, at least according to some accounts Lewis was not quite the bachelor he is shown to be here, possibly having shared more than tenancy of The Kilns (where he and Warren still lived when he met Joy) with Janie King Moore, 25 years his senior and mother of his college roommate Edward "Paddy" Moore, who died in WWI. With regard to Lewis's and Joy Gresham's relationship itself, the movie espouses the view of some biographers that the couple's April 1956 wedding was merely a marriage of convenience designed to allow Joy to stay in England - and that Lewis only fell in love with her after she had been diagnosed with cancer (although she had evidently been taken with him for a considerably longer time) - but here, too, much remains disputed: inevitably so, as this goes to the very heart of their romance; a romance, moreover, growing in an environment not exactly encouraging to the baring of one's soul to outsiders.
Be that all as it may, however, "Shadowlands" is an emotionally and visually stimulating, tremendously powerful production, centering on the recognition that there are only two ways to deal with love: either to shut it out, thus avoiding pain as much as you're foregoing bliss, or to embrace it, thus also allowing for the sorrow it may bring. As a boy, Lewis chose the former: Unable to cope with his mother's death and reconcile it with the idea of a benevolent God, he chose atheism over religion and, later, a scholar's protected, emotionally unchallenging existence over matrimony; this remaining his choice even after having accepted Christianity, now explaining human suffering as "God's megaphone for shouting at a callous world." Yet, all that was called into question when he met Joy who, with her outspoken nature, progressive views, ex-communist background and New York Jewish upbringing was the most unlikely match conceivable for him; and soon made herself unpopular with his Oxford colleagues, e.g. by pointedly rebuking Christopher Riley's (John Wood's) remark that men have intellect where women have souls (which incidentally could well have come from Lewis himself, who had once explained his refusal to marry by noting that then "all the topics of conversation would be used up in a fortnight"). Yet, what had started with a courtesy meeting over tea with a self-professed admirer soon blossomed into a stimulating intellectual exchange and, based thereon, friendship - although Lewis still clung to the idea that there was nothing more to their relationship. Indeed, just *because* Joy was a woman with whom he could have the intellectual exchange he had heretofore only known with men, he could accept her as a friend while keeping her at an emotional distance ... or so he thought. Only the realization that he would soon be losing her forever (at least, according to this movie's interpretation) cut through his armor. Still, although he believed he had now understood that happiness and pain are inextricably linked in love, his faith was again profoundly shaken by her death, giving birth to of his most personal works, "A Grief Observed."
Magnificently framed by its Oxford University background and featuring a tremendous cast, from the two leads to Edward Hardwicke (Warren Lewis), Joseph Mazzello (Douglas Gresham) and top-tier actors even in minor roles (to name but a few, Julian Fellowes, Michael Denison, Peter Howell, Julian Firth and Peter Firth), "Shadowlands" received Oscar nominations for Debra Winger and William Nicholson's screenplay (Anthony Hopkins was only nominated for "The Remains of the Day"), but in a year that also saw strong competition from "Philadelphia," "Age of Innocence," "Short Cuts" etc., ultimately lost out to "Schindler's List" and "The Piano" (Holly Hunter). Nevertheless, this is a powerful testimony to the love between two truly unusual individuals; one of Oxford-s pre-eminent scholars and the woman who was to him, as he wrote in her epitaph, "the whole world ... reflected in a single mind."
on 2 August 2000
Initially, one might expect this to go down the route of many other "heritage" films but that would be a mistake. Yes, there are great views of Oxford, yes there are many an eccentric and testy don and lofty views from the high table, but this tale of CS Lewis's friendship and love for the American poet Joy Gresham has much more to offer the average Sunday afternoon watcher. What matters here is the acting from a stellar cast led by Anthony Hopkins. His performance is in my view one of the best of his career. His portrayal of the vulnerable Jack, eager to love and not knowing how to deal with this new experience is illicited by Richard Attenborough with great care. The scenes between Hopkins and Winger are permeated with enormous emotion. Shadowlands is the finest piece of work by one of Britain's best cinema storytellers and is always a film I am able to return to without question.
on 9 January 2005
Anthony Hopkins is excellent as CS Lewis in this sad tale of love found and then lost. It is as you would expect it to be - he is the quiet academic, a perfect English gentleman, she is the brash and bold American - opposites attract. You do not need me to expalin the story any further!
The story unfolds at a sedate pace but as their relationship flourishes, Joy becomes seriously ill and dies from cancer leaving Lewis with her young son. There are moving performances from all involved and coupled with beautiful scenery (which adds volumes to the bittersweet story, I think it was EM Forster who said that there is always something sad about beauty)this film is an evocative portrayal of life, love and the resulting pain from its inevitable loss. Would you wish that you had never loved so that you didn't have to deal with the misery of loss? The answer of course is no, and this film is a gentle and moving account of CS Lewis emotional journey through the happiness, the pain, and back again.
on 5 January 2004
I have always loved the Narnia books and I still read them occasionally. I am fascinated by the man behind the magic, and I think he would have enjoyed seeing this movie. It deals with the author's marriage, late in life, to an American poet - and her subsequent terminal illness. I cried buckets, and yet at no time does it descend into sentimentality. Anthony Hopkins is incredible as C.S Lewis and Debra Winger is wonderful as the American who changes the life of this staid, middle-aged bachelor. It is emotionally fulfilling on all levels. I can recommend it to anyone, especially those who have read and loved the Narnia books.
on 12 November 2010
This is a very strange film, a most extraordinary film. C.S. Lewis and his brother are two unmarried professors in Oxford, living together in the same house. They are living in this haven of peace that Oxford is, entirely dedicated to learning and knowledge, to the maturation of men in the teenagers they get every year, year in and year out. It is their function, their aim, their target and they cannot be derailed from this perspective. Oxford is their own territory and their own world and the world has no limits within these limits of Oxford, and an eventual trip to London for a lecture, but never beyond. C.S. Lewis is a special case in that entirely ghettoized intellectual world. He writes stories for children, for the children he will never have. These stories are about a strange world beyond the bottom of a wardrobe in the attic of his home. A world of bad and evil, of fighting for good and against evil. And yet his life is a routine that would kill thinking out of any human being. But not him, and plenty others around him. They are righteously living in the comfort of academia. The top echelon of that academia. Till one day when an American woman and her young child comes up and asks for an autograph. And the ghetto implodes. The peace is gone, love takes its place. The diplomatic marriage will eventually give way to a real marriage, but on a sick bed in a hospital. She finds out, too late of course, she has bone cancer and will eventually and soon die. And that's how C.S. Lewis discovers there is another love he had never really thought of and certainly not experienced: love for another human being that becomes your horizon and for whom you are dawn and dusk at the same time. That love that makes you mute and talkative in the same minute, so much the one and so much the other that your tongue trips on your muteness and your words get strangled in your talk. Love as a feeling of total gift of yourself to the other and of the other to yourself, with the tremendous responsibility that goes along with it. And death then becomes an unacceptable step away from this reality. Death comes and love will never go away and will turn into suffering, longing, wanting, needing and never getting the satisfaction you could ever wish to get. Love is for life I was going to say, oh yes, love is for life and even beyond life, for death if it comes and when it comes. Love never turns into ashes and never goes back to dirt because it is not dirt, it is the soul of the heart and the mind of life. And that's what C.S. Lewis actually discovers late in his life and never forgot after that. He finally learned how to be a fully blooming man, but it hurts so much when you learn love from within the death of your beloved. I must say the slow rhythm of the film, the very intimates scenes, the delicacy of the language and the acting, and the art of Anthony Hopkins serve that theme so well, so beautifully. It seems to be able to last for ever and ever, and yet the young son, now step-son, is there to remind you the show of life goes on for ever and ever on the stage of the strutting human beings we are.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne, University Paris 8 Saint Denis, University Paris 12 Créteil, CEGID
on 24 December 2011
This is already for a long time one of my favourite films.
I only posessed it on VHS and I am glad that I own the DVD now!
It is a beautiful story in a previous time period about a very educated man,writer of e.g. the Narnia Chronicles; C.S.Lewis, who - at the age of almost a middle-aged man - missed the "experience" of falling in love, unconditionedly.
Well.... then there is Joy and she provides him with that experience!
He learns that the grief then is part of the happiness now..."that is the deal".
I can recommend this beautiful. original film of a high standard of integrity.
on 13 January 2008
Praise indeed but on my first viewing of Richard Attenboroughs beautifully paced drama set mainly at Magdelanes college in Oxford i was amazed by the quality of script and acting.
This is an account of Professor of English and author of the Narnia books C S Lewis love and loss in a magnificently directed drama.
Mr Hopkins plays the role of the confirmed bachelor who lives with his brother most convincingly.
As i have already said the pace of the film is very slow but beautifully directed and is better for it aswell.
Debra Winger easily deserved Oscar nomination for her role as the American admirer Joy Gresham but it is her young son whose anticapation of meeting his hero Jack
(played by Hopkins)that makes this film endearing.Its akin to a young child going to see Santa for the first time,trepadation and fear but great excitement.
Hopkins throughout most of the film is reserved not letting his guard down the typical middleaged bachelor but Mrs Greshams upfront manner breaks down his guard and he finds love for the first time.
This part of the film especially is handled brilliantly by Hopkins who goes to tremendous lengths to conceal his love for a divorcee American from his Oxford Dons.
The scene where other college professors who have known CS Lewis for over 25years see him with a brash American woman is funny and well acted at the same time.
Although the narrative and storyline are vastly different to Remains of the Day, Hopkins portrayal of the lone confirmed bacherlor falling in love for the first time is a magnificent piece of acting.
With a storyline based on true facts Attenboroughers great direction and Hopkins magnificent acting make Shadowlands a truly memorable film.
Nearing the end of the film when Mrs Gresham marries Lewis for the first time to allow her and son Douglas to remain in the country the film moves at a slightly quicker pace.
Joy's accident whilst answering the telephone diagnoses terminal cancer of the left leg.
The attachment of CS to Mrs Gresham grows and grows,the beautifull backdrop of the Golden Valley in Herefordshire is most moving but the now devoted husband having officially remarried her in hospital clings onto the hope that she may become well again.
Of the many films i have seen few are as moving as Hopkins vigil besides his wifes bed and final farewell after his realisation of her passing away.
There is one scene that those familiar with the film will remember showing the true magnificence of Hopkins as an actor.
Young Douglas whose earlier disappointment at finding the famous wardrobe (taken from Lewis great novel The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe) in Lewi's attic bare and holding no secrets now sits infront of it remembering his now dead mother.
Lewis obviously so ill at ease with children explains how he lost his mother at the age of nine but the moment when they both break down in tears and hug each other is so heartrending that its overpowering.
I defie anyone not to shed a tear in this moment of great sorrow.
Hopkins acting at this point is simply breathtaking.
There are few people who would criticise Hopkins in this mesmorising piece of acting,he plays the grieving husband and doting father so well that its hard to imagine any actor dead or alive improving on it.
That final scene of a revisit to the Golden Valley with Douglas and pet dog running towards his new father CS Lewis seals what to me is one of the finest films made by Richard Attenborough even of equal merit with Ghandi.
The film was made in the wrong year,1993 when Schindlers List won all the Oscars of note but i still cannot make my mind up on which film is supream Remains of the Day or Shadowlands,both so different but of equal merit because of the trully spellbinding acting by all involved.