By Thomas Kuster, CMI Exec. Dir.
Ever since our college days at the University of Wisconsin, where we drove up to Portage to enjoy summer stock at the now long-defunct “Green Ram Theatre,” Judy and I have always enjoyed live theatre, maybe especially in the summer.
A couple of weeks ago we saw the stage version of “Shadowlands” at Minnesota State University, Mankato. The production was excellent, as they almost always are there. So was the highly acclaimed 1993 movie version starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. (Incidentally, Julian Fellowes, who created and wrote Downton Abbey, appears as Desmond Arding in that film.)
I saw the movie many years ago and left it wondering, as I did again after the stage version, whether it really was what the movie tag-line said: “Based on the true story of C. S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia.” Was the faith of the great Christian apologist really crushed by the loss of his true love, Joy, as the drama portrays?
Turns out it wasn’t.
Difficult as that experience must have been for Lewis – and who but one who has experienced the untimely loss of a loved one can know? – he can still be held high in the esteem of those who appreciate excellent Christian literature. Read the review of the film on CSLewisweb by John West, who points out that the scripts of both the play and screenplay reflect more the views of their writer, William Nicholson, than the experience of Lewis. West details two major ways that the scripts distorted the reality of Lewis’ life and experience.
Shadowlands was Nicholson’s second produced screenplay, which first appeared in 1985 as a TV movie well after Lewis’ death in 1963. His first was the 1983 Martin Luther, Heretic. According to IMDb, that film was “produced by both the British Broadcasting Company and Concordia Publishing House (St. Louis, Missouri) as part of the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther in 1483. It’s original release was on VHS and BETA tapes.” It was an interesting subject for a writer whose early education was in a Roman Catholic monastic school in the English countryside.
Amazingly talented, Nicholson went on to write dozens of books and screenplays, including Gladiator (2000), Les Miserables (2011, the musical whose sound track profoundly disappointed me), and Unbroken (2014). His success is unquestioned; still we might ask about the ethics of appropriating the fame and distress of another person to create a vehicle for expressing one’s own views.
Though my admiration for C. S. Lewis is as it ever was, I still have wondered for many years why, (spoiler alert!) in the climactic event of his gripping space trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra,and That Hideous Strength), this quintessential master of verbal apologetics chose to overcome the evil villain with a fist fight. But that’s OK – read it anyway.