Director: Norman Stone
Writers: Max McLean, Norman Stone
Max McLean stars as an older C. S. Lewis narrating the formative events in his life that led him to convert to theism and then Christianity.
I am an avid fan of C. S. Lewis and his work, so when I learned that a recent biographical movie had been released, focusing on his conversion story, I was intrigued. My expectations for the film, however, differed vastly from the reality of the film. I assumed that the movie would take the standard approach, filming the events of Lewis’s life from childhood to conversion, with actors depicting various events in story form. This was not so.
The Most Reluctant Convert goes for an artsy approach, beginning with a framing narrative showing actor Max McLean getting ready for his role as an older C. S. Lewis. It then takes the form of McLean narrating C. S. Lewis’s life story as he strolls around local places Lewis presumably frequented, while other actors occasionally pantomime the story in the background. (Sometimes they get to speak.) In the end, I concluded that this story, as told, did not work well as movie. For C. S. Lewis’s conversion story, I would recommend reading Surprised by Joy (on which the film was based). And for those who want it narrated, I would suggest listening to the audiobook.
Truly, I am confused by the existence of this movie since most of it is narration and readers can get that narration by simply listening to an audiobook. I suppose the primary benefit is that there is a visual component, as well, so readers can see McLean walk around England. Personally, however, I’d rather just listen to an audiobook if that is the main experience I am going to get. McLean does a superb job as C. S. Lewis, and I enjoyed seeing Nicholas Ralph, who stars as James Herriot in PBS’ All Creatures Great and Small, as a younger Lewis–though, sadly, he does not have much to do. Altogether, however, I was grateful that the run time was only about an hour and fifteen minutes
Even McLean’s narration of Lewis’s conversion story did not fully move me, mainly because it seems like the type of dialogue that would only resonate with people who already agree with Lewis. Lewis simply drops statements to the effect of, “Only Christianity and Hinduism could be taken seriously,” when one is choosing a religion, and then moves on! Such statements are not, in fact, self-evident to probably the majority of people. If this movie were really meant to make people think about religion and philosophy, I would expect more reasoning and evidence to be given. As it is, however, it seems clear that the film is aimed towards people who are not going to dispute Lewis’s claims and who want a feel-good story about a beloved author’s conversion.
Final verdict? Watch this if you really love C. S. Lewis and his work, but be forewarned that it is not a film in the traditional sense. It’s really just McLean narrating some of Lewis’s thoughts and works onscreen. It didn’t work for me, but others have given it rave reviews, so it must work for someone!
You Might Also Enjoy
- Phantastes by George MacDonald (one of the books that Lewis mentions as part of his conversion)
- 10 Must-Read Books about C. S. Lewis
- Movie Review: Tolkien (2019)