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Shadowlands (1993)

tomatometer

96

Average Rating: 8/10
Reviews Counted: 28
Fresh: 27 | Rotten: 1

Thanks to brilliant performances from Debra Winger and especially Anthony Hopkins, Shadowlands is a deeply moving portrait of British scholar C.S. Lewis's romance with American poet Joy Gresham.

100

Average Rating: 8.6/10
Critic Reviews: 7
Fresh: 7 | Rotten: 0

Thanks to brilliant performances from Debra Winger and especially Anthony Hopkins, Shadowlands is a deeply moving portrait of British scholar C.S. Lewis's romance with American poet Joy Gresham.

audience

89

liked it
Average Rating: 3.9/5
User Ratings: 9,769

My Rating

Movie Info

This lavishly mounted adaptation of the play by William Nicholson tells the true story of the doomed love affair between novelist and noted Christian scholar C.S. Lewis and a Jewish-American poet. Anthony Hopkins stars as C.S. "Jack" Lewis, an Oxford professor and successful author of the Chronicles of Narnia series of children's fantasy novels. A confirmed bachelor, Jack's existence is an inward life of the mind. Somewhat detached from the world, his only social outlet is evenings out at a

PG,

Drama, Romance

William Nicholson

Apr 13, 1999

Savoy Pictures

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All Critics (28) | Top Critics (7) | Fresh (27) | Rotten (1) | DVD (3)

Biting down on his pipe, his shirt collar permanently askew, Hopkins assays another concerted study in English repression -- a condition unexpectedly relieved by Winger's brash intelligence and brittle wit.

June 24, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Superlative acting by Hopkins and Winger elevates this fictionalized late-in-life romance between the repressed British scholar and writer C.S. Lewis and the American Jewish housewife-poet who introduces him to sex and rejuvenates his life.

November 30, 2005 Full Review Source: Variety
Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Here is Mr. Hopkins giving an amazingly versatile and moving performance, shifting the light in those knowing blue eyes to reveal endless shadings between delight and sorrow.

May 20, 2003 Full Review Source: New York Times
New York Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Sit back, watch a master at work, and never once believe that you're not observing the real C.S. Lewis.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: ReelViews
ReelViews
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It understands that not everyone falls into love through the avenue of physical desire; that for some, the lust may be for another's mind, for inner beauty.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A high-class tear-jerker about the romance of repressed British writer C.S. Lewis with feisty American poet Joy Gresham.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Washington Post
Washington Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

This is the biggest tear-jerker you could ever see.

November 6, 2005
ColeSmithey.com

Really Touching stuff. Performances get no better

November 18, 2003
Moviehole

Glossy and effective, but not as good as the Joss Ackland version.

October 22, 2002
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

Anthony Hopkins gives one of his best performances (there are so many) in this film.

August 21, 2002 Full Review Source: Movie Habit
Movie Habit

A deeply personal and moving love story filled with many moments of beauty, joy and healing.

August 20, 2002 Full Review Source: Spirituality and Practice
Spirituality and Practice

A great weepy for people of all sexes

July 26, 2002
Hot Button

Debra Winger is engaging and Anthony Hopkins is bloody marvelous.

January 9, 2002 Full Review Source: Movieline
Movieline

There are so many things special about this movie it is hard to know where to begin...

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Internet Reviews
Internet Reviews

Richard Attenborough tackles yet another "true story" and this time comes away with something quite a bit more substantial than Robert Downey, Jr. in greasepaint.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Austin Chronicle
Austin Chronicle

One of the most underrated tear-jerking melodramas of its time.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: rec.arts.movies.reviews
rec.arts.movies.reviews

If Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger aren't careful, they're likely to knock themselves out of contention for Academy Award nominations by doing too much excellent work in one year.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: rec.arts.movies.reviews
rec.arts.movies.reviews

Anthony Hopkins just gets better and better as a film actor.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Deseret News, Salt Lake City
Deseret News, Salt Lake City

Audience Reviews for Shadowlands

If Alfred Hitchcock is the archetypal auteur, and Robert Altman is the ultimate actors' director, then Richard Attenborough is the consummate luvvie. Attenborough's career is that of someone so impassioned by acting and filmmaking that it leaches into every aspect of his craft, both in front of and behind the camera. Sometimes, as with Chaplin or moments in A Bridge Too Far, this passion becomes overbearing and compromises the integrity of what we are seeing. But sometimes, as with Shadowlands, it may be the thing which makes all the difference.

Taken at face value, Shadowlands could almost have been a Woody Allen film: its central relationship is a late-blooming romance between an elderly, shy, somewhat neurotic man and an inquisitive, playful younger woman. It is also a textbook weepy, being a story which is rooted in tragedy and which will have you in tears by the end. But while it doesn't deviate massively from either mould, there is much about Shadowlands which is intriguing and stimulating.

For all the times when he has over-egged things, Attenborough does know how to assemble a top-notch cast, who sit in their parts like they were the only people who could possibly play them. Anthony Hopkins has a head start in this due to his experiences with Merchant Ivory, but even so he inhabits C. S. Lewis like no-one before or since. His accent may still be a Port Talbot brogue rather than a clipped Cambridge twang, and there are moments in which he is rather theatrical. But he remains utterly convincing and completely endearing to an audience.

The theatrical moments of the film are not especially problematic either, for two reasons. Firstly, and perhaps obviously, it is adapted by William Nicholson from his original play. Because it is a direct adaptation by the same author, you can readily understand that the tone would be broadly similar, so that all the little flourishes which would occur on stage are captured and compressed on screen. But secondly, this is not problematic because the film does not feel stagey. Unlike Plenty, which tried to disguise its theatrical roots through clunky camera tricks, Shadowlands feels broadly cinematic and therefore when the moments of theatricality come, they do not disrupt proceedings too greatly.

Be that as it may, the film is guilty of one cardinal sin of stage-to-screen adaptations - namely that there are too many locations. There is a lot of travelogue footage in Shadowlands with the camera following our characters as tiny dots on a variety of landscapes, whether it's the hills of Herefordshire or the resplendent halls of Cambridge University. The film jumps from location to location a good deal more than it needs to, in an attempt to seem more epic, ambitious and by contrived extension cinematic. It doesn't quite fall into the trap of assuming that bigger scale equals better story, but on a number of occasions it comes perilously close.

The comparison between Shadowlands and Plenty goes beyond the technical accomplishments of the former. Both films approach the issues of routine and domesticity, and both feature women who don't fit into the very orderly, male-dominated world which is put before them. But what makes Shadowlands the more compelling is the dynamic of the central relationship, which in both films determines our ultimate response to the story.

In Plenty, Meryl Streep's character is essentially passive-aggressive: she wants to change the world but not at the expense of moaning about how difficult her life is. This makes it more difficult for us to identify with her consistently, and we end up feeling sorry for Charles Dance having to put up with her. In the world of Susan Traherne, domesticity is a menace from which nothing productive or meaningful can emerge, and once a person has entered it their life is effectively worthless. Shadowlands is a lot more subtle and welcoming, with the settled nature of its characters serving as a springboard from which pure emotion can emerge. The need for Lewis and Joy Gresham to challenge each other, both personally and intellectually, gives us both a compelling drama and hope that we have not yet past our respective sell-by dates.

The great success of Shadowlands is its balance of the personal and the intellectual. The film raises a great number of fascinating theological questions to do with pain, suffering and the loss of childlike innocence, but it does not approach such questions with all the esoteric dryness of a Bible commentary. There is a rich vein of substance in the film which can be absorbed and will result in deep discussions afterwards. But the film can also be enjoyed purely as a romance, because its ideas are conveyed through characters we can relate to and conversations we can recognise.

Much of the film is a debate about the role of suffering in human life - "the purpose of pain", as Lewis would put it. The film isn't afraid to confront this old chestnut of Christianity head-on, questioning the role of God in the events which transpire, both good and bad. Lewis is not immune from theological doubt, and is troubled so deeply by the loss of Joy that he erupts uncharacteristically when his academic friends try to comfort him. The early part of the film sees Lewis 'talking the talk' about pain and suffering, delivering lectures with an expression of sanguine satisfaction. But as the action moves on it becomes a film about 'walking the walk', putting Lewis' theories into practice and showing to what extent they bring comfort.

What makes Shadowlands so compelling as a religious or theological film is that there are no easy answers to any of the questions it raises. Joy criticises Lewis for his style of inquiry, quipping that "every time you ask a question, you know the answer already". The film is quite the opposite, neither giving a watertight theological explanation nor settling for a sentimental cop-out. We have to come to our own conclusions about where (if anywhere) morality lies, and whether Lewis was right to believe that God could still be at work in the midst of such tragedy. His passing words, that the pain of losing Joy is part of the deal of having a full life, leaves us hanging in the best possible way as we question our own attitude towards the Almighty.

If anything, though, the central theme of Shadowlands is not whether pain is a justifiable part of life. It is mainly a film about openness, about baring one's soul and constantly questioning one's opinion of how the universe operates. The Narnia books are all about discovering and exploring fantastical new worlds, and yet Lewis himself a reluctant adventurer. His lecture on pain and suffering, which characterises God as a sculptor with a chisel, is repeated several times to show how he is set in his ways, whether by choice or unconsciously. The arrival of Joy is the beginning of a long period of questioning, which results both in deep sorrow and in levels of joy which he had never experienced before. As he says to Joy as she lies dying, "you've made me so happy... I didn't know I could be so happy."

Shadowlands is a very moving film and may be Attenborough's best work, being tauter than Gandhi and more disciplined than Chaplin. Hopkins and Debra Winger anchor the film with convincing, understated performances, supported ably by Edward Hardwicke as Warney and Joseph Mazzello as Douglas. It isn't without its little problems, and it is too conventional in places, but as a piece it holds together and you find yourself getting swept up in the story. More than anything, this is a film made by someone with general affection for both the story and the characters, and it is made so well that a great deal of that affection is reflected back.
November 21, 2010
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

Another beautiful true story of a famous personage -- the neat thing that the son actually helped on this movie!
July 28, 2007
sainttom93
Tom Ericksen

Super Reviewer

Romantic moving about CS Lewis and his American divorcee. CS Lewis was from my hometown.
July 14, 2007
thmtsang
Candy Rose

Super Reviewer

Hopkins gives us a wonderful portrait of a believer who is forced to confront his faith when a partner becomes terminally ill.
March 17, 2014
John Ballantine

Super Reviewer

    1. Jack Lewis: I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God. It changes me.
    – Submitted by Chad E (2 years ago)
    1. Jack Lewis: Why love if losing hurt so much. I have no answers anymore, only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I have been given the choice. As a boy and as a man. The boy choose safety, the man chooses suffering.The pain now is part of the happiness then. That's the deal.
    – Submitted by Theta S (3 years ago)
View all quotes (2)

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