I just finished watching “The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis” that I had checked out of the library. It’s available on Amazon Prime. I had seen the trailer for this last year and wanted to see it. Actor Max McLean plays C.S. Lewis. I know him as the voice narrating my Bible passages. He narrates the English Standard Version, King James Version, and New International Version of scriptures and just has the best voice for narration.
In 2016, Max wrote a script for the stage performance of “The Most Reluctant Convert” about C.S. Lewis’ conversion based on his collected letters and his autobiography “Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life.” Max talked to Norman Stone about making this script into a movie. Norman directed the 1986 C.S. Lewis Through the Shadowlands. Viewers walk with C.S. Lewis through his memories. It reminded me a bit of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” because the elderly Jack is looking back at scenes from his life, not unlike a ghost, showing how his circumstances impacted on his views on God. He went from a family belief in faith to denouncing it, to picking faith in God back up to examine to surrendering to Him completely.
The movie opens with present day Max McLean preparing on the set of the film. As they call out “Action!” Max transforms into the elder C.S. Lewis. He walks with the viewer through the Natural History museum at Oxford University and then to a pub for a drink. That was fun for me because I had just made a cup of tea and was able to toast him from my living room.
C.S. Lewis, known by Jack, grew up in a loving family who practiced the Christian faith. When his mother became ill with cancer, Jack knew he should pray for her. He thought if he did so that God would give him what he asked and she would live. She died though and slowly his faith went to the grave with her. Later, he said he would take communion as a young man and drink condemnation on himself because he didn’t believe in God.
The viewer moves with Jack’s early years of education. His love of reading. He attended various private schools and lived in a private tutor’s home. Tutor William T. Kirkpatrick, “The Great Knock,” would sharpen his mind in debate, like iron sharpening iron. Jack enlisted in the British Army and served during World War I. He was injured on the battlefield and eventually discharged in 1918. Soon after, he became a fellow and tutor of English Literature at Magdalen College in Oxford, England.
He said during his time at Magdalen, books he read “turned against him” as did the changing tide of ideas he would debate with his friends and fellow scholars. They would debate about the classics, philosophy, materialism, evolution, and intelligent design. And then “God closed in on him.” He called Him a Spirit and though not converted in 1929 he said he gave in and became a theist. He had regular talks with J.R.R. Tolkien – Tollers – and things started to change in his spirit. Tolkien and Owen Barfield would talk with him all night long about Jesus he remembered. In autumn 1931, he went to the zoo with his brother, and it was on that day he went from unbelief to belief. Long asleep, now awake.
I watched the extra footage on the disk about the making of the film. The film company started making this movie in Oxford, England, from Sept. 21 to Oct. 9, 2020, in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. That made for interesting logistics, but I would never know they had Covid restrictions impeding production. The movie is so well made. I felt like I time traveled with Jack. The movie released in the U.S. on Nov. 3 and in the U.K. on Nov. 7, 2021, which was perfect because the movie ended with a Christmas scene. That Christmas in 1931 Jack marked as the beginning of a new faith journey in Christ. He took communion that day as a new creation, 17 years in the making.
Max McLean is perfect as C.S. Lewis. I thought all the casting choices were excellent. They even cast a C.S. Lewis scholar, Michael Ward, as the vicar. He teaches a course on Lewis on this site. I liked this idea of meeting the elder C.S. Lewis as he journeyed back in time. What a brilliant mind he had and such a way with words. No wonder he was able to supply hope for those enduring the hardships of World War II, having walked through so many valleys himself. He found himself pursued by a loving God and that story of his reluctant heart turning toward Him is one I feel every believer will enjoy. But don’t take my word for it — check it out!