Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

UK 1993
Directed by
Richard Attenborough
130 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Richard Attenborough’s film about C. S. Lewis, best-known as the author of "The Chronicles of Narnia" series of much-loved children’s books, and his marriage to Joy Gresham, an American writer, is exemplary British film-making that will appeal to fans of the Merchant-Ivory school of picturesque Englishness. 

Picking up Lewis’s life in its later years in the early 1950s we find him a confirmed bachelor and Oxford University professor who lives with his brother in a quaint cottage and spending his free time verbally sparring with fellow dons at a local watering hole. His life is cosily well-ordered and with the exception of a lumpy housekeeper, devoid of women.  That is until the appropriately-named Joy enters it. The two had corresponded for some time when Joy arrived in England with her young son fleeing a collapsing marriage. Over the next several years they became friends and when in 1956 Joy was on the verge of being thrown out of England, Lewis married her so that she could keep her residency although they did not live as man and wife. Not long after, Joy was diagnosed with advanced cancer and Lewis realized that he was in deeper than he had imagined. They marry, this time properly (in the eyes of God) and Joy went into remission, giving the couple two happy years before she died in 1959.

Based on a stage play by William Nicholson who also wrote the script Shadowlands is a gracefully well-turned portrait of a quintessentially English intellectual type devoted to the life of the mind and sorely estranged from that of the heart and how he discovered the latter. Attenborough packages his story seductively depicting a classically-idealized picture of Lewis’s world in an ivy-covered ivory tower and, somewhat like Powell and Pressburger’s productions, reveling in the reserve, even repressiveness, of the English character.

Anthony Hopkins, needless to say, gives a wonderful performance although one would have to say more as Anthony Hopkins than C.S. Lewis.  He is much like the quietly correct Mr Stevens of  Merchant-ivory’s Remains of the Day which was released the same year, only with the opportunity for some heavy emoting. This occurs most prominently in the penultimate scene in which Lewis has a heart-to-heart with the now-orphaned young Douglas (Joseph Mazzello) Joy’s son (in actuality she had two). Somewhat ironically, this is the only time Attenborough fumbles the ball,  Mazzello with his rouged lips and what looks like (although may be they are not) fake tears not pulling off a very difficult task. Attenborough should have found a more judicious way of handing this. As Joy, the abrasive American who has enough of stultifying English manners, Winger is on the money and she and Hopkins work well together. Edward Hardwicke, heading up a professional support cast, gives a winning performance as Lewis' elder brother, Warnie.

Personally I preferred Remains of the Day as there is no tension there between what we see and “reality”.  Even so, Shadowlands provides rewarding viewing and no-one wanting an intelligent, graceful and poignant film will be disappointed.




Want something different?

random vintage best worst