Anthony Hopkins did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a BAFTA, for portraying "Jack" C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands.
Shadowlands I found to be a surprisingly effective film detailing the tragic romantic relationship between famed writer C.S. Lewis and American divorcee Joy Davidman (Debra Winger).
Anthony Hopkins was nominated for leading actor for his turn as the very repressed butler in The Remains of the Day, therefore he could not be recognized for this film. I have to admit coming into the film I pondered if this was going to be a similar performance to The Remains of the Day, which is good a performance by the way, due to the fact that he is playing another Englishman around the same general time period. Well that is not the case in the least in this, his fifth collaboration with Richard Attenborough as a director. I suppose the idea of playing such a famous writer one might expect something a bit stuffy, that's not the case. Even from his earliest scenes Hopkins brings such a life to his portrayal of C.S. Lewis, known to his friends as Jack. This is not just some literary figure in Hopkins's hands as he so effortlessly engages the role. Hopkins's performance has this real energy about it, which is rather fascinating since it still entirely fits in the way he realizes Lewis's character. Rather interestingly Hopkins gives us a man who is very happy in his life, even before we get into the central romance, portraying Lewis as someone who at least believes himself to be where he wants to be, more or less.
This performance I'll admit surprised me quite a bit just by how enthusiastic Hopkins is as Lewis. Now Hopkins never only played villains particularly in The Elephant Man where he played the very good hearted Dr. Treves, but that was in a more internalized fashion. Hopkins here is far more extroverted in bringing out Lewis's good nature while keeping in the right confines for a dignified university professor. There is actually one moment I rather love early on in the film when speaking with his fellow professors at the pub. As Lewis turns the conversation to speak of his dream world Hopkins is brimming, almost bursting, with this certain remarkable cheer of man who, in a way, truly believes in what he speaks of. Hopkins shows a different kind of creative spark than is often the case where we deal with the tortured artist. Hopkins is careful to show there is nothing tortured about Lewis. Hopkins instead finds such an endearing passion connected to his own creativity. Hopkins plays these moments as a man almost trying to share the joy he receives from these dreams of sorts with others and brings a real sense of the beauty in this act. Even though it is technically just someone going on about their ideas, that enthusiasm Hopkins brings creates such a sense of purity about it.
Hopkins manages to be equally compelling though even when we see Lewis working directly as a professor. In these lecture scenes Hopkins is rather effective in portraying the charisma of a great teacher. There is this grace that Hopkins brings to his these scenes suggesting the right ease Lewis has in such a setting. Now this is whether he is delivering a larger speech or merely just giving some quieter instruction. The eloquence Hopkins finds is rather perfect actually, aided of course by his very notable voice. Hopkins in no way uses this as some sort of crutch though and I love the nuance he even brings in these moments. There is a running subplot with Lewis attempting to deal with one of his students who doesn't seem to make the right sort of effort in his, non mandatory, classroom. There is a great moment where Lewis uses the man's sleeping in his classroom to explain Aristotle theory on character as defined by action. Now I quite honestly could listen to Hopkins break down such theories all day, but that's not all there is to Hopkins's work. Within that still Hopkins portrays the right fascination in even the difficult student. In that Hopkins is able to accentuate the idea that Lewis very much has a drive to share his own knowledge though he does it in very much his own way.
The central aspect of the film though is Lewis's relationship with the American Joy who comes to see him, basically as a fan, along with her son Douglas (Joseph Mazzello). It is here in which lies Hopkins's greatest challenge in the film in that there is Lewis's arc which has steps to it in the script, yet they are very light and likely would have felt vague without the proper guidance. Hopkins's performance brings this guidance through the way he realizes change in Lewis in his interactions with Joy. Now in their initial meetings Hopkins portrays a real warmth, a rather charming side of him that one does not often see from him. Hopkins shows Lewis in these scenes as a gracious host. He brings a real gentlemanly quality as he complies with any requests though Hopkins still keeps in mind a certain awkwardness in the interaction. An awkwardness that Hopkins makes rather natural in that it actually really is in no way unpleasant rather just something one would expect from an author who is dealing with a fan. Hopkins importantly though shows that the warmth he portrays is in no way a put on at any point, and subtly plants the seeds to the central relationship.
Some time goes on though and by chance Lewis and Joy meet again at one of Lewis's public readings. Hopkins is excellent in the pleasure he expresses in Lewis at seeing Joy again, and there is something truly brilliant how elegantly Hopkins presents this. The happiness Hopkins shows is automatic in a way, and creates the sense that even Lewis isn't quite fully aware of how much he seems to get out of her company. Their encounters no longer become chance though after she moves to England, after abandoning her abusive husband, and Lewis becomes a frequent visitor. In a way to "legitimize" her societal standing she even marries her in the court of law. Now the initial marriage ceremony is a key moment actually in which Hopkins establishes where they are in their relationship. In the moment Lewis gets marries and basically leaves as though all they were doing was taking care of some paperwork. This could be seen as the actions of a cold man, and in fact the more expected way to play this whole thing could have been to have Lewis begin as cold. Hopkins doesn't take this approach, portraying instead something a bit more complex. Hopkins again carries a real affection, but also suggests a certain uncertainty in knowing how to interact with Joy entirely past that. Hopkins though is careful to show this does not come from being uncaring, but rather effectively illustrates Lewis as inexperienced with such matters.
Hopkins's work is very intriguing in the way he connects that ease of his life into Lewis's certain disconnection with Joy at first. In that Hopkins shows a man who is content with his life therefore almost fails to consider properly the idea of changing it in any real way. When Joy calls Lewis out on his behavior not to exactly challenge himself, Hopkins's performance earns the sentiment since he so honestly presented Lewis's peculiar form of creating a personal distance. Things turn for a worse though when Joy collapses revealing she has an advanced form of cancer that will no doubt be fatal. Hopkins is incredibly moving by showing that in this moment is when Lewis fully realizes that he is love, which had already been there but he had trouble seeing it clearly. Hopkins poignantly finds tragedy in the way he expresses the combination of anguish in Lewis at the same time as he expresses his true feelings for Joy. It is pivotal that Hopkins does not make it just some sympathy for her pain as the cause though, as Hopkins brings this heaviness in Lewis's very being as though the lateness of the realization weighs on him deeply. Hopkins is devastating as he brings so much raw emotion in the second marriage ceremony, in the church, as he makes it as though Lewis is trying so hard to keep Joy with him to make up for lost time. They are given a small reprieve to spend time together, and Hopkins finds the bittersweet tone of these scenes so perfectly through his performance. There is such tenderness and adoration in every word through Hopkins's delivery. Again he brings this curious yet powerful portrayal of a painful elation as Lewis spends the time as well as he can even though the underlying thoughts of a difficult future remain. Eventually the future comes to pass and Joy dies. The story lingers to follow Lewis dealing with the grief. Hopkins's work is downright outstanding as he completely loses that ease of life from before. Hopkins shows even an intense anger at the world and God, as he stresses the difficulty in Lewis attempting to understand why Joy was taken away. The only solace he finds is in trying to comfort her son, though they end comforting each other, and Hopkins is utterly heartbreaking as he depicts Lewis's breakdown as he admits to how much he misses her. Hopkins doesn't provide an easy solution to the grief though as even at the end of the film Hopkins gives us a man changed by this forever, a man having lived through something that finally challenged his life of comfort. I love this performance. Hopkins not only gives an effective depiction of this famous author, but goes so much further in his incredible portrait of so much a man goes through with love, life and death.