Our Rating: 5 out of 5
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Directed by Richard Attenboroguh, Shadowlands is one of the most poignant love stories of our time. Based on the true-life romance of author C.S. Lewis and the American woman who won his heart, it is a story of love, inspiration, loyalty, and faith. The film opens in Oxford in 1952. Lewis is a successful author and Christian philosopher, a professor at the local college and much-revered among the children of England for his magical series of children's books, The Chronicles of Narnia.
Perfectly satisfied to live with his brother in their local flat and listen to classic on BBC radio, Lewis (Anthony Hopkins) is a quiet, shy, and often withdrawn individual in public. But his life is disrupted when he meets Joy Gresham (Debra Winger), a beautiful, talented, and outspoken American woman who loves poetry. Her single son Douglas (Roddy Maude-Roxby) is enraptured with Narnia and desires to meet the renowned author and inquire after his latest book. But despite his uncertainty around children, Lewis finds himself fascinated by the spirited Joy, who endured a marriage to a violent man and a hasty divorce before fleeing to England. After the death of his mother at age nine, Lewis or "Jack" as his friends called him, adapted a protective barrier to protect himself from future pain. Refusing to become too involved emotionally and thus being a very introverted character, he refuses to admit his feelings even to himself. In a moment of apparent insanity, Lewis agrees to an arranged marriage so that Joy will be able to stay and live in England, despite the violent outcry from his closest friends and fellow Oxford professors.
But he is unable to distance himself or sort out his feelings until it is revealed that Joy has a rare form of cancer... and Lewis must choose whether or not to marry her anyway. I won't lie to you. This is a devastatingly sad film, made even more so due to the fact that it is entirely true. I cried through the last half... and for an hour afterward. My father is an avid Lewis fan and so was able to confirm that most of the story is true. It may divide slightly for thematic elements, but few were needed. The truth that Lewis strayed from love because of losing his mother at a young age and was forced to reopen his heart for sorrow in loving Joy makes it alone worthwhile. The film is all about finding joy through our pain. The strength that he finds in love alone will lend to the discovery of the joy of simply being alive.
The acting in this film is outstanding, particularly on the part of Anthony Hopkins, who seems to have been made to fit the role of C.S. Lewis like a glove. Focusing more on the emotional results of the climax than the traumatic, the film pulls heartstrings without turning into another British-set soap opera. The resulting grief on Lewis' part is nothing less than heart shattering as he grapples with God, learns to accept and eventually comfort his stepson, and becomes the compelling Christian author that has been deemed one of the deepest philosophers of his age. As Joy claims so bravely, 'We can't have the happiness of tomorrow without the pain of today. That's the deal.' Aside from the traumatic story which will tug at the hearts of even the most stalwart soul, the film, although rated PG, is almost completely void of any neutral content. There is apparently some speculation among the professors as to whether or not Joy and Lewis are romantically involved, which lends itself to a well-timed quip from Joy that brings a smile to one's face. 'Jack, don't you sometimes just bust to share the joke? Here's your friends thinking we're unmarried and up to all sorts of wickedness, when all along we're married and up to nothing at all.'
On his wedding night, Lewis comes in shyly and Joy gently laughs before placing her arms around him. There's some mild language and many instances of drinking and pipe-smoking. Joy also falls in her apartment and ends up in the hospital. In addition, one should mention that Lewis' friends (including Tolkien especially) violently opposed the marriage due to the fact that Joy was divorced, Jewish, and at one time, an atheist. Fortunately the film has enough humor to keep it from becoming depressing as the story unfolds. The writing is intellectual but easily understood, the gorgeous English countryside proving a formidable backdrop. One hurts deeply when Lewis demands answers from God, bursting out in the midst of a meeting in a shocking fit of despairing anger, demanding to know why it had to happen this way. But somehow the director manages to bring the ties together for a heartbreaking and yet uplifting ending. For those of us with deep-rooted emotions, pack a box of tissues. Despite its sad conclusion, it is a must-see.