Blogathons, Romance, True Story

The “No, You’re Crying Blogathon”: Shadowlands (1993)

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Debbie, over at Moon in Gemini, is hosting this blogathon all about films that make us cry. Be sure to check out her site to read all the other entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

I want to write about Richard Attenborough’s 1993 film, Shadowlands. This is a film that I find to be extremely moving. It is shot in a way that makes me feel as though I have stumbled across a deeply private moment and am watching it unfold before me. This film shows us how precious and painful love can be, and how cruel and unpredictable life can sometimes end up being.

The loss of a loved one is something we will all unfortunately have to face at some time in our lives. When we lose someone we love, we often rage, asking why this had to happen; we demand to know why did it have to happen a particular way or at a certain time. Loss can make you question the point of life itself, and question why we even allow ourselves to love, if the pain of losing a loved one is so great. Richard Attenborough’s film tackles this pain head on. Shadowlands makes me cry every time I watch it. Hopkins in particular is so moving as the man opening himself up emotionally; the trouble is by doing that he is leaving himself vulnerable to the upcoming pain of grief and loss.

The scene where Lewis is talking to a friend who is a vicar, and breaks down in the church and confesses his love for Joy moves me so much; it moves me because Hopkins makes you feel the agony and helplessness that Lewis is experiencing at that moment. This scene always seems to me like I’ve intruded on a real and very private moment.

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Shadowlands tells the true story of British author C.S Lewis(Anthony Hopkins), best known for creating that magical land of Narnia(please access through your nearest wardrobe.)Lewis was an Oxford lecturer and theologian, he suffered great grief in his early years when his mother died when he was just ten years old. Lewis became an atheist for many years, but later ended up returning to his Christian faith.

Oxford, in the mid 1950’s, the somewhat repressed author and Oxford lecturer, C.S.Lewis(Hopkins) lives with his brother Warnie (Edward Hardwicke).  Lewis is content with his well ordered life, that is until he meets a woman who will change his life forever.

Lewis meets the outgoing American poet Joy Gresham(Debra Winger). The pair became good friends, soon that friendship turned into something more and they are married. Tragedy lies just around the corner though when Joy is diagnosed with cancer. The film shows Lewis allowing himself to fall in love far too late; by the time he admits and acts upon his feelings, Joy is doomed to be taken away from him.
Hopkins is heartbreaking in the role of Lewis. He really lets you feel how much Lewis is being ripped apart inside and I think this is one of the best performances he has ever given on screen. Lewis can’t bear to lose Joy, wishes he had fallen in love with her sooner, and is helpless in the face of her pain. The crying scene between him and Joy’s young son Douglas(Joe Mazzello)is one that I will never forget and it makes me cry every time I watch this film.
Debra Winger is excellent as the funny, bubbly, outgoing woman who allows Lewis to open himself up to the joy of love. Winger makes you feel that you would like to have known Joy, that she would have been fun to be around. When we learn of Joy’s illness it’s even more cruel because she is someone who is so full of life and knows that she is slipping away. Debra is so convincing in the scenes where Joy is really in pain, that it is difficult to watch her as it’s like you are witnessing real suffering.
There is a great line in this spoken by Joy: ”the pain then is part of the happiness now. That’s the deal.” Knowing we will one day lose the person/people we love certainly makes us value the time we spend together. Personally the fear of the pain from that inevitable loss makes the rest somewhat difficult for me; I guess it all comes down to are you willing to accept such pain in your life? It’s worth it for the happy times but can you take what happens next?

This film raises and tackles these questions so well. It’s moving, romantic and most important of all, you remember that this couple really went through all of this.
Superb performances, a beautiful score by George Fenton, and some beautiful location work(Oxford, the countryside)all make this a must see. Keep the tissues handy though, you will need them. For me this is one of Richard Attenborough’s greatest film achievements.

I find the following scenes to be very moving. The famous “the pain now is part of the happiness then” scene. Lewis admitting his love for Joy, the look on Hopkins face during that scene really moves me, he shows so much love and tenderness for her. The attic scene between Lewis and Douglas. Joy saying goodbye to Douglas. The final scene between Lewis and Joy. The “you look at me properly now” hospital scene.

If this film moved you, then I highly recommend you also check out the 1985 version starring Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom.

Please share your thoughts on the film below.