Max McLean mesmerizes as the middle-aged C.S. Lewis in The Most Reluctant Convert, an adaptation from McLean's own stage play chronicling Lewis's remarkable journey from hardboiled atheist to becoming the most renowed Christian writer past century.
Intelligently directed through a lens of faith by British Christian Filmmaker Norman Stone, The Most Reluctant Convert is a quietly captivating motion picture that is undeniably theatrical in presentation and destined to appeal most thoroughly to those who are persons of faith and those who can immerse themselves in a stage adaptation that still feels very much as if we're sitting in our homes watching the stage experience come to life.
The Most Reluctant Convert enjoyed a limited theatrical release and now embarks on its streaming release with Trafalgar Releasing. One can only hope the film will find the audience it so richly deserves. Both the play and the film are based primarily on Lewis's memoir Surprised by Joy, this relatively slight 73-minute film manages to capture the significant points in the life of the man many know primarily as the creator of The Chronicles of Narnia. Filmed largely in and around Oxford, U.K., The Most Reluctant Convert quickly introduces us to McLean's Lewis as the narrator of the film and a constant presence in it even as we travel back-and-forth to experience the tragic death of Lewis's mother when he was nine-years-old, his subsequent strained relationship with his father, his declaration of atheism at age 14, his nightmarish time in the trenches of war during World War I by age 19, and his journey to Oxford University where friend J.R.R. Tolkien would ultimately challenge his unbelief.
The Most Reluctant Convert is grounded in intelligence and reason, an underlying emotional resonance immersing us in the fullness of Lewis as so wonderfully brought to life by McLean in Lewis's middle-aged years and by Nicholas Ralph (All Creatures Great and Small) at the time of Lewis's actual conversion to Christianity.
Those who consider themselves to be Lewis devotees will find much to love here as Lewis's own words radiate throughout the cohesive narrative, Mere Christianity coming to life alongside The Weight of Glory and other familiar works. While I'm not convinced that The Most Reluctant Convert will, in fact, convert anyone to C.S. Lewis or Christianity, for those who already embrace Lewis and/or Christianity this is a most stellar and immersive biopic.
While it is McLean's performance that largely holds the film together, one must note that the film's ensemble cast is strong down to even the smallest role. Nicholas Ralph is exceptional as the younger Lewis while I must also give kudos to Eddie Ray Martin's portrayal of Lewis in his childhood years. Amy Alexander shines in a brief yet memorable appearance as Flora Lewis, one glimpse toward her terrified sons as her life nears its end a rather remarkable, unforgettable scene. Richard Harrington's work as a former prosecutor turned widowed father captures the impact such an experience would have had on his young sons, while Tom Glenister is solid as J.R.R. Tolkien. David Gant excels as Lewis's most precious teacher, W.T. Kirkpatrick.
To be honest, I was even quite taken by Madeleine Day as a dance teacher with whom Lewis becomes rather smitten in his adolescence.
Those who can't quite surrender themselves to more traditional stage adaptations may struggle with The Most Reluctant Convert, a dialogue embracing and character-driven drama that could, for the most part, easily have taken place on a grand stage and still have succeeded quite grandly. This feels very much like a more typical British production, a disciplined and beautifully constructed motion picture with a cast understanding of all the fine nuances of Lewis's life and Lewis's written words.
For me, I simply loved every moment of The Most Reluctant Convert and found myself wanting to watch it all over again as the closing credits were rolling.
And so I did.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic