Home Page > Movies Index (w/mixed oldies) > > Movie Review

Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Tea for Two

Shadowlands (1993) on IMDb

Plot Overview

C.S. “Jack” Lewis (Sir Anthony Hopkins) had suffered a deep hurt as a child of nine when his mummy died and couldn't be roused when he called. He has since carved out for him­self a safe, insular, bachelor existence teaching at Oxford Univer­sity as well as being author of a popular Narnia series of children's books—he hasn't got any children him­self. He also hits the lecture circuit as far as London giving scholarly presen­tations on God's purposes for suffering—yet he doesn't let any­one get close enough to cause him grief. One (1952) day in his mail he receives a fan letter from an American Jewess, Communist, atheist, poetess Joy Gresham (Debra Winger) asking to meet him for tea when she comes to England. Talking it over with his brother Major Warnie Lewis (Edward Hard­wicke) they figure they'll have a cup of tea (“It's only tea, Warnie”), then she'll leave and that will be the end of it. It doesn't work out that way.


On Joy's second visit to England, she has the chutzpah to ask the Oxford don—now her acknow­ledged friend—to “extend to her his British citizen­ship” by way of a “technical” marriage. Jack does what seems right. At The Office of … & Marriages, a govern­ment wallah “calls upon these persons here present to witness that …” they've been wed. But they keep it mostly a secret. From this point on we witness Jack singing with a smile on his face instead of looking so glum during the services. Further­more, his feelings for Joy grow by leaps and bounds as he cares for her deteriorating health until he makes a proposal, “I want to marry you before God and the world.” A priest performs the cere­mony by Joy's hospital bed.

Marriage according to Dr. Ide held, “The Contemporary Christian standard … defined not by the bible but generated by Roman law as defined by the jurist Modest­inus who argued that marriage was ‘consortium omnis vitae, divini et humani iuris communi­catio: a life-long part­ner­ship, and a sharing of civil and religious rights’” (83–5). In some South American countries, they do have two separate ceremonies, a religious one followed by the civil. Jack and Joy like­wise proceeded by stages. According to the psalmist, (Psalm 68:6) “God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains: but the rebellious dwell in a dry land.” Jack had been released from the chains of his child­hood bad memory to embrace now a wife while his agnostic colleagues held a dry bachelorhood.

Eventually the newlyweds will take a honeymoon drive looking for the sunrise scene in a picture titled, “The Golden Valley,” some­where in Here­ford­shire County. A local explains to them that the valley's name was derived from the word dwr, Welsh for water, that got mistaken for d'or, French for gold. In America we had some­thing similar happen w.r.t. our Pilgrim settlers naming a competing settlement, as described by historian George F. Willison: (276)

Fond of puns he called it “Ma-re Mount” or Mountain by the Sea, but the Pilgrims were not altogether wrong in mistaking it for “Merie Mount.” The rechristening of the town was a gala affair, fittingly celebrated in “a solemne manner, with Revels and merriment after the old English custome.” A straight thin pine eighty feet tall was cut down and trimmed for use as a Maypole.

The Pilgrims were understandably scandalized by this pagan celebration. Here in “Shadowlands” the couple on their honeymoon have “What kind of happiness?” ¶“Just happy.” Now, it was of all places at a May Day celebration, though pagan, that the couple really lets loose (“It's known as high spirits.”) They celebrate Christmas as well. In England they say, “Happy Christmas”, while in America it's, "Merry Christmas." While it's "jolly old England", the French have "gai Paris (gay Paree)", Borrowing from the French we've gotten more creative with gay that could reflect the current sense of "stupid", as Kate explained youth lingo to Ben in the movie “Love Is Strange”: “He doesn't mean homo­sexual, Uncle Ben, he just means stupid.” Jack and Joy's preliminary marriage was, oh, so gay, in the sense of stupid, as she puts it,

Jack, don't you sometimes just bust to share the joke? Here's your friends thinking we're unmarried and up to all sorts of wickedness, when all along we're married and up to nothing at all.

Then they had a religious ceremony and increased their joy (“You made me so happy. I didn't know I could be so happy”) until it verged on a gay marriage in the happiest sense of, (Eccl. 9:9) “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity.”This “vanity” encompasses the seemingly pointless suffering in this world that C.S. Lewis struggled with (“It's this bloody awful mess and that's all there is to it.”) One has to judge by context and tone of voice which "gay" is meant by the dyad "gay marriage," stupid or happy? Since 2003 in America (a little earlier in the Nether­lands) we've seen the legalization of same-sex marriage, but since the law uses precise terms, not a floating expression like "gay marriage," one must resort to a triad, "gay and lesbian" to capture this third sense of gay as applied to marriage.

Production Values

This 1993 film “Shadowlands” was directed by Richard Attenborough. Its screen­play was written by William Nichol­son. It stars Anthony Hopkins, Debra Winger, Joseph Mazzello, Edward Hard­wicke and John Wood. Anthony Hopkins was marvelous as C.S. Lewis. Debra Winger nails it as Joy Gresham. In real life Joy had two boys, but this movie stream­lines her brood down to one. The boy's struggle to adapt to British ways has its prandial expression in his selection of American traditional holiday fare (i.e., turkey & cran­berries) dating back to the Pilgrims' first Thanks­giving, adapting to a new life away from England.

MPAA rated “Shadowlands” PG for thematic elements. It's got top quality acting and cinema­tog­raphy. It was beautifully shot in spectacular locations, and was perfectly complemented by one of the most sublime musical scores you're likely ever to hear, composed by George Fenton. The pace is sedate verging on just a little too slow and too long. Overall, the film just manages. While it was beauti­fully filmed and crafted with care, it misses the je ne sais quoi that might have propelled it to greatness.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

I'm already a fan of C.S. Lewis, having read some of his Christian apologetics. I think he was Irish to start out with, but he'd certainly have been influenced by the academic setting here so well portrayed. The story is curious, even some­what touching. The American woman is not the most felicitous representation of modern woman­hood one could hope to encounter on film, but artistic people do have their quirks. This is one you should think about care­fully before committing your time to viewing, but at worst you'll just be bored.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: No action, little adventure. Suitability for children: Suitable for children w/ guidance. Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day. Special effects: Well, at least you can't see the strings. Suspense: Predictable. Overall product rating: three stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture taken from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Ide, Arthur Frederick. Noah & the Ark: The Influence of Sex, Homophobia and Heterosexism in the Flood Story and its Writing.
  Las Colinas: Monument Press, 1992. Print.

Willison, George F. Saints and Strangers. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1945. Print.