Competing J.R.R. Tolkien Movies Race to Theaters (Exclusive)

Tolkien - P 2014
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Tolkien - P 2014

"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. 

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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 Narnia series, 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.

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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 principal Wernher 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).