Get a box of Kleenex, and be prepared to go through the whole box when you sit down to watch this movie. Shadowlands is one of the most moving films ever to be made - an affecting tale of love, loss, and the price of safety.
Shadowlands is the story of C. S. Lewis (Anthony Hopkins), and his relationship with American Joy Gresham (Debra Winger). When the movie starts, we find Lewis, known as Jack to his associates, teaching at Oxford, writing, lecturing, and living as a bachelor on the family farm with his bachelor brother Warnie (Edward Hardwicke). It's a comfortable, if somewhat empty existence. Jack receives a letter from an American woman asking if she can meet him. They agree to have tea, and strike up a friendship, as Jack is impressed with the brash, yet very intelligent Joy. She tells him that her son loves his Narnia chronicles and asks if the boy can meet him. Jack agrees, and Joy brings her son, Douglas (Joseph Mazello) to Jack's home. Jack and Joy maintain a correspondence, and at Christmas, Joy writes that she is coming to England for the holidays, and would like to visit. Jack invites her to stay at his home. While there, Joy tells Jack that her marriage is ending. Several months later, Jack runs into Joy after a lecture he has given. She tells him that she has moved to England, and invites him to her house for dinner. While he's there, she asks him to marry her so she can stay in the country. He agrees, and they have a platonic marriage until Joy becomes gravely ill, forcing Jack to reevaluate his feelings for her and the state of their marriage.
Visually, this is a beautiful film, set mostly in the lovely English countryside. The period is well depicted, and you feel that you have stepped back slightly in time. And the wardrobe in Jack's attic is a particularly good touch.
The script is brilliant. Emotional issues are handled with great intelligence, and comic touches help to lighten what is sometimes a very dark story. Jack's emotional fragility is presented in such a way that the viewer discovers it with him at about the time he realizes that this aspect of his personality must change. Joy's brashness balances very well with her emotional intelligence, and she gets the best lines in the film, both comic (her response to the baiting of one of Jack's colleagues "Are you trying to be offensive, or merely stupid?"), and poignant ("The pain then is part of the happiness now," as she tries to prepare Jack for her imminent death). Her scenes with Jack are lovely, and the growth in the course of their relationship is beautifully depicted. Warnie is also a nicely developed character, a loyal and caring brother who takes on the responsibility of caring for Joy's son with warmth and kindness. Nothing is wasted, as every scene helps to propel the story forward to its conclusion.
The acting is excellent. Hopkins' portrayal of Jack is sensitive without being weak. Winger hits all the right notes in her portrayal of Joy, brash and bold, yet with a better understanding of emotion than the more sensitive Jack. Edward Hardwicke does a nice job with Warnie, giving us a performance that makes us wish we knew more about him. And Joseph Mazello gives a great performance as Douglas, a little boy who finds himself orphaned in a strange land with few people to turn to. The scene where Douglas and Jack finally comfort each other over their common loss is among the most touching in the movie.
A movie that stays with you long after it ends, and makes you long to sit through it again and again. Just make sure you have those Kleenex handy...