Tuesday I reviewed Harry Lee Poe’s biography trilogy on C.S. Lewis. Over the past weekend I viewed the movie The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis. To simply say that the movie ended up being almost exactly what my, somewhat low, expectations were would short circuit this review. While remaining brief I will expand a bit on what I thought about the movie.
It is competently made. There was really no aspect that came across as shoddily done. The acting, particularly from Max McLean, is quite good. The locations are visually lush, especially the night shooting which is clear and natural looking,* the period costumes are also not bad, if a bit idealized.** All of which shows just how far “christian” or “faith based films” have come. And therein lies my prejudice. For all of the quality on the screen the story is entirely predictable. Now charity dictates that it be remembered that I already knew how the story would end. Yes, but part of my persnicketiness in this comes from the subtitle, The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis. This particular tale has been told many time, by many biographers. I have two shelves worth in my library to prove it. The point is that any complaints I would raise about the film are small but numerous. It is, death by paper cuts.
The story itself is very, very broad in its brushstrokes. Loosely based on Surprised by Joy, Lewis’ autobiography, with a few passages from other works mixed in (The opening monologue is from chapter one of The Problem of Pain). Since the thing is barely over an hour long it is understandable that omissions had to be made. But in omitting certain people from the biography makes Lewis less complex. He comes off as the idealized Lewis who possessed enormous character despite any of the people or events that built him. As such the schoolboy days are idyllic, Mrs. Moore never existed. The same goes for Arthur Greaves, even Warnie disappears half-way through the film. Lewis’s doctor and fellow Inkling once said Surprised by Joy should have been titled Suppressed by Jack. That is an apt description of this film.
Essentially this is not a movie for the serious Lewis scholar. It is better than Shadowlands, which makes up characters out of whole cloth among its other glaring issues. And Reluctant Convert is infinitely superior to the recent Tolkien bio pic travesty. There is no heavy handed writing about fellowships or germans morphing imaginatively into orcs, At no point does Mr. Tumnus wander past the Kilns.***
Essentially this movie is exactly what you would expect to find from a distributer called PureFlix. It is inoffensive, clean, decently made, but not particularly moving. Particularly for those who have more than a passing acquaintance with the source material. Perhaps it is a good starting point, or early step for those beginning their journey with Lewis. It is like a Story told to young children about David. It’s all knocking about Goliath but never a word breathed about Bathsheba. It has it’s place, but left me wanting more meat.
*This is hard to do and the budget conscious way historically is to film during the day and add a dark blue filter or to show night sky but have the actors lit so brightly from the front that is strains credulity.
**Lewis was a notoriously shabby dresser often described as resembling more of a local butcher or wealthy farmer.
***Though Lewis scholar Michael Ward does pop up as the priest at Holy Trinity Church.