In the 1950s, the reserved, middle-aged bachelor C. S. Lewis is an Oxford University academic at Magdalen College and author of The Chronicles of Narnia series of children's books. He meets the married American poet Joy Davidman Gresham and her young son Douglas on their visit to England, not yet knowing the circumstances of Gresham's troubled marriage.
What begins as a formal meeting of two very different minds slowly develops into a feeling of connection and love. Lewis finds his quiet life with his brother Warnie disrupted by the outspoken Gresham, whose uninhibited behaviour sharply contrast against the rigid sensibilities of the male-dominated university. Each provides the other with new ways of viewing the world.
Initially their marriage is one of convenience, a platonic union designed to allow Gresham to remain in England. But when she is diagnosed with cancer, deeper feelings surface, and Lewis' faith is tested as his wife tries to prepare him for her imminent death.Anthony Hopkins as C. S. "Jack" Lewis
Debra Winger as Joy Davidman
Edward Hardwicke as Warren "Warnie" Lewis
Joseph Mazzello as Douglas Gresham
James Frain as Peter Whistler
Julian Fellowes as Desmond Arding
Michael Denison as Harry Harrington
John Wood as Christopher Riley
Shadowlands received positive reviews from critics and maintains a 96% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 28 reviews.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called the film "intelligent, moving and beautifully acted."
Rita Kempley of the Washington Post described it as "a high-class tear-jerker" and a "literate hankie sopper" and added, "William Nicholson's screenplay brims with substance and wit, though it's essentially a soap opera with a Rhodes scholarship . . . [Winger] and Hopkins lend great tenderness and dignity to what is really a rather corny tale of a love that was meant to be."
In Variety, Emanuel Levy observed, "It's a testament to the nuanced writing of William Nicholson ... that the drama works effectively on both personal and collective levels ... Attenborough opts for modest, unobtrusive direction that serves the material and actors ... Hopkins adds another laurel to his recent achievements. As always, there's music in his speech and nothing is over-deliberate or forced about his acting ... Coming off years of desultory and unimpressive movies, Winger at last plays a role worthy of her talent."
The stage play opens with Lewis giving a talk about the mystery of suffering, whereas this film intersperses a similar talk several times throughout the narrative. The television film opens with Lewis giving a radio broadcast about the sanctity of marriage.
In the stage play as in reality, Lewis and Davidman honeymoon in Greece. In the film, on their honeymoon they look for a "Golden Valley" in England, as depicted in a painting hanging in Lewis' study.
As in the stage play, though not the earlier television film, Joy has only one son. In the original television film, as in reality, Joy had two sons, Douglas and David.
Awards and honoursAcademy Award for Best Actress (Debra Winger, nominee)
Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (nominee)
BAFTA Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film (winner)
BAFTA Award for Best Film (nominee)
BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Anthony Hopkins, winner)
BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Winger, nominee)
BAFTA Award for Best Direction (nominee)
BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (nominee)
National Board of Review Award for Best Actor (Hopkins, winner)
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor (Hopkins, winner)
Southeastern Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor (Hopkins, winner)