Lewis Phenomenon Continues in The Most Reluctant Convert

Shortly before his death in 1963, C. S. Lewis told his secretary Walter Hooper that five years after he (Lewis) was dead he would be forgotten.1 As a prescient and prophetic twentieth-century Christian thinker and writer, that seems to be one of the few things that Lewis got wrong.

A potent Lewis phenomenon has been taking place a generation after his death and shows no sign of waning. His books sell better now than they did during his lifetime. Lewis’s children’s fantasy novels The Chronicles of Narnia are some of the best-selling books of all time—having sold one hundred million copies in 47 languages. The Narnia series has also been adapted for radio, television, the stage, film, and computer games.2 Lewis’s most popular theological and apologetics book Mere Christianity was chosen by Christianity Today magazine as the most important Christian book of the twentieth century. And in 2013, on the fiftieth anniversary of Lewis’s death, he was honored in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey, alongside some of the greatest writers in English literature.

New Movie about Lewis
A new movie released just before the holidays is a C. S. Lewis biopic entitled, The Most Reluctant Convert: The UntoldStory of C. S. Lewis. It’s directed by Norman Stone who also directed the 1985 television movie Shadowlands, a film about C. S. Lewis and his wife, Joy Davidman. The movie features theater actor Max McLean as the middle-aged Lewis who narrates some of the key events in C. S. Lewis’s life, including his acceptance of atheism as a young man, his time as a soldier in World War I, and specifically the events that led to his rediscovery of belief in God and his conversion to Christianity. The movie is based on the McLean play, C. S. Lewis on Stage: The Most Reluctant Convert, and reflects some of the content from Lewis’s famous autobiography, Surprised by Joy (1955).

One of the most appealing features of the film includes three actors’ portrayal of Lewis at various stages of his life: young boy, young man, older man. For me, the best part of the movie is McLean’s engaging narration of Lewis as the Oxford Don looks back at various stages and events of his extraordinary life with serious reflection. 

Another captivating element of the movie is that it was filmed in and around Oxford, and includes scenes from Oxford University’s Magdalen College where Lewis taught, The Kilns where Lewis lived, the Eagle and Child pub where Lewis met with his fellow Inklings, and Holy Trinity Church where Lewis attended church and where he is buried. I also appreciated that the role of the Anglican priest at Lewis’s church was played by Michael Ward, who biblical scholar N. T. Wright has called “the foremost living Lewis scholar.”

A seemingly confusing feature of the film, at least for me on my first viewing, is the beginning of the movie. It starts out as an apparent documentary as to how the movie was made and then shifts to McLean’s stage play as Lewis and then finally to the narrated movie events of Lewis’s life. The transition and sequence seemed somewhat awkward. The movie also covers a lot of ground in Lewis’s life in a very short time, which may be confusing to people who don’t have extensive knowledge of Lewis.

Takeaway
Yet whether one likes the film or not, (I certainly enjoyed it) there are two larger points to be appreciated. First, like the 2019 biopic film Tolkien about J. R. R. Tolkien, the fact that the life of a prominent Christian thinker and writer is depicted on the big screen is extraordinary. This is especially true in that the film catalogs Lewis’s journey from atheism back to belief in God and then to the acceptance of the truth of Christianity.

Second, the film illustrates that the Lewis phenomenon continues. The film was first scheduled for select, and therefore, limited showings in theaters. But the robust attendance at the film’s initial release has led to extended showings of the movie. People remain interested in C. S. Lewis and the books, plays, television programs, and big-screen movies that tell us more about this extraordinary man.

C. S. Lewis’s words and ideas carry a special persuasiveness concerning the truth of historic Christianity. And by their movie ticket purchases, a lot of people are interested in seeing that message receive a wide public showing.

Reflections: Your Turn 
Have you seen the film? What did you think?

Resources

Endnotes

  1. Alister McGrath, C. S. Lewis—A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2013), 363.
  2. Wikipedia, s. v. The Chronicles of Narnia, last edited November 11, 2021.

  One thought on “Lewis Phenomenon Continues in The Most Reluctant Convert

  1. November 16, 2021 at 9:09 am

    I really enjoyed it. Having seen the stage plays, the Great Divorce and the Screwtape Letters, by Max McLean, I was excited to see it, and I was not disappointed.

    • November 16, 2021 at 2:05 pm

      Thanks, Kevin.

      Ken Samples

  2. R
    November 16, 2021 at 2:30 pm

    Thanks for the review, Kenneth. When we watched the movie the placement of the “Making Of” segment struck us as odd too.

    If I may offer a word of explanation: Those who were on the e-mailing list for this movie may have seen this message in their inboxes that arrived on Nov. 11 (a week after the premiere, unfortunately).

    Subject: “The Making of” feature was not meant to be shown before the movie

    The text of the message:

    “In the past week, I’ve heard many wonderful comments about our first movie. I’m super grateful for every one of those comments!

    But I have also heard that many were caught off guard by The Making of The Most Reluctant Convert preceding the actual film.

    I know I was.

    That was a delivery mistake. The intent was to show this bonus feature following the movie, not before it. Event cinema such as ours requires “bonus” content, which is why it was shown at all. Unfortunately, we will not be able to correct this before Nov. 18.

    If you haven’t seen the film, The Making of . . . bonus offers keen insights. Just be prepared to see this 12-minute feature before the movie starts.

    Sincerely in Christ,
    Max”

    Hope that helps!

    • November 16, 2021 at 3:17 pm

      Randy: I’m a huge Lewis fan and have a chapter on Lewis in my book Classic Christian Thinkers. As I state in my review I enjoyed the movie and encourage others to see the film.

      I don’t mean to be overly negative, but professional movie makers shouldn’t make mistakes like this (explanations shouldn’t be excuses). The beginning is awkward and it unfortunately has turned some people off to an otherwise fine film.

      Seeing Lewis’s life depicted on the big screen is a huge accomplishment in terms of supporting the truth claim of Christianity.

      Unfortunately, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Hopefully, if it is rereleased they will get it right.

      Thanks.

      Ken Samples

  3. ptcovert
    November 18, 2021 at 8:13 am

    Though as you’ve mentioned Ken, there are many terrific aspects to the film–I was very put off from the awkward beginning with the bonus feature documentary being shown first. You’re right. That was a terrible mistake and very much hurt the initial showing and reviews, which came out afterward. My understanding in following the situation is that it cannot be corrected easily. Surely someone in production saw this final version of the film before it was released and neglected to do anything about this egregious mistake. It is sad for all of us C. S. Lewis fans and those acting in the film that it wasn’t corrected soon enough to make a difference.

    • November 18, 2021 at 8:27 am

      Patty:

      Apparently Max McLean has said it will be corrected upon its rerelease.

      But you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

      Ken Samples

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