It’s not good practice to get too close to the family of the subject you are making a film about, according to the director of new biopic Tolkien.
Luckily, that’s not something Dome Karukoski has to worry about.
Earlier this week, the Tolkien family’s estate put out a terse statement proclaiming they neither “approve of” nor “endorse” the Finnish director’s movie.
The 42-year-old filmmaker says this is “just their habit”.
Tolkien depicts the author’s early life in the UK, taking in his schooldays in Birmingham, where he develops his gift for language, writing and drawing, before gaining a hard-fought place at Oxford University.
But it is a Dead Poets Society-esque secret literary club formed by Tolkien with four friends – TCBS (Tea Club and Barrovian Society) – that is depicted in the film as the melting pot for the writer’s creative talents.
That is until the Great War cruelly rips the fellowship apart.
Maybe it’s this schoolboy club and its influence that the estate would prefer not to lend credibility to?
It’s hard to know, but Karukoski tells Sky News he doesn’t think it is personal.
“They didn’t like the Lord of Rings films,” he says. “I understand it’s an adaptation and how you would have adapted it differently. But I would just love them to see the film.”
The estate is notoriously protective of Tolkien’s legacy.
They settled a multi-million-pound lawsuit over Lord Of The Rings film royalties in 2009, and have since instigated legal action over a novel featuring the author and gambling games depicting his characters.
Karukoski was still at film school when Peter Jackson made the first movies in the early 2000s, and admits he would have loved to have directed them himself.
Bringing the stories to life wasn’t in his power back then, but now he has jumped at the chance to delve back into the novels he refers to as “childhood friends”.
Although the film doesn’t touch the stories themselves (the biopic is set before Tolkien began writing The Hobbit in 1937), the “lines and colours” of the fantasy are “being formed in his imagination”.
It is childhood stories told by Tolkien’s mother about dragons and dark knights which light the spark of fantasy that kindles throughout the film.
It is this nod to mythical beings and dark forces that pushes the biopic to be more than just a trot through a young Tolkien’s CV.
Karukoski says that making a good biopic is about more than just replicating a person’s existence.
“Our everyday life is quite boring,” he says. “Even though you have highlights, you have to make a two-hour film work in a dramatic sense, you have to create it.
“Artistic license is not just like, ‘Oh I do whatever I want’. It’s about the service to character.
“I wanted to be very accurate and to celebrate him and his life. But to do that we have to do the best possible film so that the audience will love it and so it will be evocative.
“Then hopefully it will bring people to his books.”
The Lord of the Rings has gone on to become one of the best-selling novels ever written, and has had an enduring influence on popular culture.
So if the Tolkien estate changes its mind and were to see the movie – what would the director want them to take away?
“The film was done with respect and admiration. I hope that when they see the film they would like it.
“But there’s also reason why you usually don’t work with the estates because very easily you start servicing them rather than the film.
“Even if they were the kindest estate ever, they would kind of become your friends and you start servicing them rather than the purity of the drama you need to make the best possible film.
“There is always the pain [of their rejection], but at the same time they have the right. But I think it was actually not that hostile. It just said please don’t send your interview requests here. It’s [Fox Searchlight’s] film, not ours.”
Fox says it is “proud” of the film and that it was made with “the utmost respect”.
Despite the family’s disavowal, at least one member of the Tolkien clan is happy to be involved.
Tolkien’s great-grandson, Callum, appears in the film as a soldier in the trenches, and attended the UK premiere in London.
And the film’s leading man Nicholas Hoult – who Karukoski describes as “intelligent, witty and goofy with a bit of Hobbit in him” – also hopes it will shine a light on Tolkien the man.
Hoult says: “As fans ourselves, I hope they feel like we’ve honoured his story and told something about his life that people didn’t know, and how extraordinary what he did and accomplished was.”
Lily Collins, who plays Tolkien’s muse and wife Edith Bratt, agrees.
“I think you gain a deeper understanding and maybe a different type of respect for his storytelling when you see where those stories came from. I’m certainly looking back at his work with a new wide-eyed perspective.”
It is the wide-eyed perspective of childhood that Karukoski believes Tolkien took with him his whole life, and which informed and inspired Middle-Earth musings.
The TCBS club is the thing he hopes will surprise and inspire his audience the most.
“They said they want to change the world with art. They go into this joy of life, changing the world, and I hope that’s something the audience can take with them.”
:: Tolkien is in cinemas on Friday