MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C. S. Lewis - On DVD, also available for VOD Rental on Apple TV+ and Google Play ($4.99)
Not Rated (My Rating: PG)
Directed by Norman Stone
Starring Max McLean, Nicolas Ralph
C. S. Lewis Onstage: The Most Reluctant Convert - On DVD, also streaming on Hoopla
Not Rated (My rating: G)
Directed by Max McLean
Starring Max McLean
This week my usual review space has turned into a Consumers Reportfor readers interested in seeing Max McLean’s celebrated depiction of the popular British author C. S. Lewis.
Max McLean is actually an American actor who has also appeared in one-man readings of Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce. C. S. Lewis Onstage: The Most Reluctant Convert was performed in 2016 with this film version recorded before live audiences in 2018.
McLean later hired British director Norman Stone to co-write and direct a second filmed version of the play, incorporating brief scenes with actors playing the parts of characters in the story. This 2021 film also includes scenes filmed in Lewis’ childhood home and at Oxford University, including the chapel where Lewis worshiped.
The 2021 film made its appearance in theaters a while ago as a high-priced Fathom Event. It just recently became available to stream, but only on Apple TV+ or Google Play as a Video on Demand (VOD).
The earlier 2018 version of the stage play is only available to stream on the library-based Hoopla (It is not available as a VOD rental anywhere.)
Both films are almost identical recitations of the original play. Director Norman Stone borrowed a few visual concepts that he had used in an earlier recap of Lewis’ life, the 2005 television documentary C. S. Lewis: Beyond Narnia (Streaming for free on Tubi TV).
The trailer for the 2021 film makes it look like we are in for a real dramatic treat. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The hallowed halls of Oxford are used primarily as places for McLean to conduct a one-man “walk and talk”. The actors chosen to perform as Lewis’ mates (including J.R.R. Tolkien) are generic upper-class scholars, indistinguishable from one another.
Lewis’ conversion story has always seemed (to me) far more interesting to Lewis than to his readers. His stories of being in France during World War I are pretty tame, with most of his tour of duty spent recovering from a high fever in a miliary hospital and later being sent home after being wounded with shrapnel. Lewis’ major early life vices are drinking, smoking and entertaining heretical ideas about God.
Like so many Christians, Lewis was raised in the Church of England but not really convinced about any of its major beliefs. He was a precocious learner and could argue his wayaway from faith, until one day things finally fell into place and he believed in Jesus Christ – while riding to the zoo in the sidecar of his brother’s motorcycle. (Lewis admits that while he knew where he was converted, he can’t actually explain how.)
McLean is quite engaging as C. S. Lewis in both films. I do think that he is more invested in his role in the earlier version, but that film suffers from a very static use of a single camera, and clumsy editing that attempts to combine different takes within a scene without changing the camera placement. The 2021 film is a nice attempt to open the play up, with the best scene saved for the end, as Lewis goes to church to receive communion.
Viewers familiar with Lewis’ writings will have fun identifying familiar passages from Surprised by Joy, Mere Christianly and other works. While Lewis remains a provocative and brilliant apologist for the faith, I don’t find his fear of hell to be particularly persuasive, and his theology is still mostly an intellectual exercise.
I am not quite sure what these short films intend to accomplish beyond fan service to lovers of C. S. Lewis. (Yes, I am one of those.) But if you are interested in seeing Max McLean in his most renowned role, you know where to find him.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
(Both) Five halos: The story of C.S. Lewis’ faith journey.
(C.S. Lewis Onstage) One pitchfork: Some scary depictions of hell and unapologetic alcohol and tobacco use.
(The Most Reluctant Convert) Two pitchforks: Some scary depictions of hell and unapologetic alcohol and tobacco use; a few scenes of war violence and a moment in a military hospital that includes sounds of two people having sex while Lewis reads a book by G.K. Chesterton (You can’t make this stuff up!).
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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