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Film / Shadowlands

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"Why love, if losing hurts so much? I have no answers anymore: only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I've been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That's the deal."

Shadowlands is a 1993 drama film directed by Richard Attenborough, starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. It was adapted from the 1985 teleplay starring Joss Ackland and subsequent stage play of the same name starring Nigel Hawthorne by William Nicholson.

The story is based on the real-life relationship between the English writer and professor C. S. Lewis (Jack, as he is known to his friends) and the American poet Joy Gresham (née Davidman).

Not to be confused with a film of the same name (which also covered Lewis' relationship with his wife) from 1985, or the 2020 World of Warcraft expansion.

This film provides examples of:

  • Artistic Licence – History:
    • By time of his marriage to Joy Davidman, Lewis was teaching at Magdalene College, Cambridge rather than Magdalen College, Oxford.
    • Joy Davidman had two sons, Douglas and David.
  • Based on a True Story: The real-life romance of C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman. For bonus points, several direct quotations from Lewis's books (notably A Grief Observed, describing his experience of bereavement) are prominently featured.
  • Citizenship Marriage: Jack agrees to marry Joy in a civil ceremony so she can stay in England, as a personal favor.
  • Composite Character: In real life Joy had two sons, Douglas and David; in the film she has just Douglas.
  • Confirmed Bachelor: Jack starts out as this, before meeting Joy.
  • Crisis of Faith: Jack questions his faith after Joy's death, but does not abandon it.
  • Culture Clash / Establishing Character Moment:
    Joy: (loud) WHICH ONE OF YOU IS LEWIS?!
  • December–December Romance: Both Jack and Joy were in or near middle aged at the time of their marriage.
  • I Miss Mom: While Jack is mourning the death of his wife, he sees his stepson, Douglas, crying. Lewis breaks down and joins him ("Me too"), in the first moment of real bonding between the two of them in the film. (Jack had also lost his own mother to cancer when he was a boy.)
  • Irony:
    Joy: Jack, don't you sometimes just bust to share the joke? Here's your friends thinking we're unmarried and up to all sorts of wickedness, when all along we're married and up to nothing at all!
  • Loony Fan: Before they meet Joy, Warnie (Jack's brother) expresses his concern that she might be one of these.
  • Manly Tears: The most heartbreaking moment of the film.
    Doug: (crying) I sure would like to see her again.
    Jack: (bursts into sobs) Me too.
  • Marriage Before Romance: Jack marries Joy in a civil ceremony so that she can live and work in the UK. He gradually falls in love with her, and after she develops bone cancer, they get married for real.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Jack's fellow academic Christopher Riley is a loose stand-in Composite Character for the rest of The Inklings, his social circle of creative minds including J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and others, who all do not appear as themselves. His given name might even be a reference to J. R. R.'s son Christopher, who eventually became a young member of the circle. Interestingly Lewis does meet with a group of friends in the Eagle and Child, where the Inklings held regular meetings.
  • Romantic Fake–Real Turn: Jack and Joy initially have a Citizenship Marriage so Joy can stay in England, but wind up falling head-over-heels in love with each other; Jack has his Love Epiphany when Joy is diagnosed with cancer and they marry in the Church shortly thereafter.
  • Shown Their Work: Many of the lectures Lewis gives in the film are taken verbatim from the real Lewis's books, especially Mere Christianity and A Grief Observed.
  • Snark Knight: Joy is this, although she softens a little over the course of the film.
    Douglas: [reading CS Lewis's inscription in his book] "The magic never ends."
    Joy: Well, if it does, sue him.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Jack's book about "why bad things happen to good people" is intellectual and unemotional, saying God uses suffering to reach people and improve character. After Joy's death, he revises his story, more or less saying it's okay to grieve nonetheless.
  • The Topic of Cancer: Or losing the person you love to a slow painful death by cancer. Just to twist the knife more, Lewis's own mother had died the same way when he was a boy, so he is all too aware of the effect it must be having on his stepson.
  • Widowed at the Wedding: Both Jack and Joy think this is going to happen, but then Joy's cancer goes into remission.