(Film artwork courtesy of Rogers & Cowan PMK)
Film Review – “The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis”
By Sarah Komisky
* WARNING THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS
Most of us could only fathom what it would be like to meet the late, great, theologian, storyteller, and philosopher, C.S. Lewis. Thanks to “The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis,” we don’t have to dream any further. Beautifully delivered, the film offers a unique perspective of the author’s life told autobiographically from Lewis’ own words in his memoir, “Surprised by Joy.” Much like his books, the author uses his signature narrative-style rhetoric to draw audiences into his life’s journey. May I say, it’s captivating.
Directed by double-Emmy and double-Bafta award-winning filmmaker, Norman Stone, responsible for BBC’s “Shadowlands” and “The Narnia Code,” the film takes a different approach to sit down with the author in a relaxed and candid experience. Intriguingly, its opener and closer invites audiences into the set as acclimated theatre actor, Max McLean, prepares and then finishes his role as middle-aged Lewis. The role is one that McLean has embraced playing since his time in the theater when the film was first a play, pre-pandemic. Now, In 2021, new audiences are welcomed onto a new movie set where the actor adjusts his scarf and reads his lines before showtime. The scene is busy and anticipatory of this “behind the scenes” look. As the actor walks into an Oxford scene and begins looking back on his life, the reader quickly forgets this is an actor. With brilliant usage of cadence, pause, and pronunciation, McClean exemplifies his theatre skills in an exceptional performance of Lewis’s profound and witty words. Amazingly, the actor resembles Lewis so keenly, we slowly forget its acting. Drawn into the words, the movie-goer is enraptured in the life of Lewis beginning in his youth. The rewarding thing is, it’s not what you think.
Cinematically, you are transported into the author’s world sitting across a table at a pub, waiting at a hazy train station, or taking a walk in the greenery of his tutorage home in the snapshots of Oxford, England. With over 18 locations in the UK as well as a set and music that creates the mood of this quest is credited to cinematographer, Sam Heasman (“Doctor Who,” “Next of Kin,” “Britannia,” “Vera”), composer Craig Armstrong (Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby, Snowdon, Bridget Jones’ Baby) and production designer Roger Murray-Leach (“Local Hero,” “A Fish Called Wanda,” “Fierce Creatures”).
You, the viewer becomes a part of the story as you are conversed with and told confessions to; a quality that makes the experience gratifying. Rather than just telling the story, you are the confider of secrets of Lewis’ private life – a more untold story.
While McClean narrates, actor Eddie Ray Martin does an incredible job with such a complex role as the child Lewis. In turn, Nicholas Ralph of PBS Masterpiece hit “All Creatures Great and Small” remarkably portrays young adult Lewis. To your amazement, the story very much relates to audiences today. The focus is the spiritual journey. We see the tragedies of growing up with an abusive father, the loss of his mother, the pangs of war, and real wrestling with faith. Lewis, the most renowned Christian author of all-time is someone we see as human. He doesn’t shy away from his emotions, rather, the story moves from someone who is a fierce “debunker” of truth as an Atheist to someone who confesses that there is a God. But, the journey is not abrupt. It’s filled with real questioning, dabbling in the occult, conversing with friends of faith like J.R.R. Tolkien, and slow, gentle, steps towards belief. It’s not overnight. And this is what makes the film intriguing because it’s much a journey like you and I.
The pain and rawness of the film is something that is a powerful connector to the audience because everyone can relate to the humanity of it. Whether you are of faith, or not, this film is for everyone who has struggled. It’s incredibly moving and permits to have a real faith that says it’s alright to journey and shows a loving God who pursues us right where we are at.
“The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis” is produced by Fellowship for Performing Arts in association with 1A Productions and distributed by Trafalgar Releasing. It releases in theatres nationwide, from November 3rd through the 7th – from New York to Los Angeles, Boston, Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, Miami Beach, San Francisco, and many more. To purchase your tickets and find out more about this cinematic masterpiece, visit: www.CSLewisMovie.com.