Anthony Hopkins Masterfully Plays C.S. Lewis

A sumptuous adaptation of the acclaimed play by William Nicholson, Shadowlands is the true story of famed author and Christian theologian C.S. Lewis’ doomed romance with American Joy Gresham. Starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger, director Richard Attenborough crafts a quiet, absorbing drama of a cautious man quite accidentally falling in love after he had long given up any ideas of marriage. The prestige drama scored two Oscar nominations, including Winger for Best Actress.

Anthony Hopkins delivers one of the finest performances in his career, likely missing out on award recognition for Shadowlands only because he had won Best Actor a year earlier for The Silence of the Lambs. The British thespian was on a marvelous roll in the 1990s, scoring four Oscar nominations and one win in the decade. Hopkins effortlessly plays a refined intellect of Oxford and genteel gentleman, British writer C.S. “Jack” Lewis. Lewis went by Jack to all his friends and relatives.

Shadowlands is the true story of famed author and Christian theologian C.S. Lewis’ doomed romance

Debra Winger plays the feisty Joy Gresham, a no-nonsense American poet from New York fleeing an abusive marriage. She takes a backseat to no one, including legendary writer C.S. Lewis. Joy is a spark plug of fierce intellect, able to catch the author off-guard with her blunt honesty and straightforward attitude.

A confirmed bachelor, Jack’s existence at Oxford is devoid of any great passion or love. Jack has his intellectual pursuits and a very comfortable life as professor. Developing a correspondence with Joy through letters, she visits Jack at Oxford with her young son Douglas in tow. Douglas is a huge fan of the Narnia books authored by Jack. In a cute nod to that beloved children’s series, the first thing Douglas looks for is a wardrobe in Jack’s attic. Sadly, there are no witches or lions to be found.

The renowned Oxford University professor develops an affection for Joy and quickly settles into an uneasy friendship, offering to marry her when she’s looking for British citizenship to remain in London. Slowly Jack’s heart opens up to love and he realizes deeper feelings for the American, jump-started when she develops cancer. Jack’s orderly world is awakened to new possibilities in the face of tragic circumstances.

Lavishly staged by Richard Attenborough with William Nicholson adapting his own play for the screen, the tender drama captures something powerful and engaging. Shadowlands is a moving portrait of tragic love made with all the magic Hollywood can imbue around wonderful writing . Rarely does Hollywood entertain adult romance so plainly and earnestly, a haunting rendition of C.S. Lewis finding love. Shadowlands had previously been made as a well-received British television movie in 1985, which informs but certainly doesn’t supersede Attenborough’s stunning version.

Anthony Hopkins was born to play C.S. Lewis and Debra Winger turns in a solid, if mildly overrated, performance. The deliberate romance between their characters produces a heartbreaking chemistry worth watching again. If you squint, you’ll catch a young Julian Fellowes before his Downton Abbey days.

It should be noted the movie slightly alters history for the sake of its storytelling. Joy Gresham actually had two children in real life, Douglas and David. Possibly for economy and simplicity in a drama already running over two hours, David is not included in Shadowlands. The rest of the film is a fairly accurate depiction of the life shared by C.S. Lewis and Joy Gresham, made in cooperation with Douglas Gresham himself.


Mill Creek licenses a respectable film transfer from Universal with excellent color reproduction and detail – the huge exception being serious ringing in several different scenes. Properly shown at the film’s intended 2.35:1 composition, cinematographer Roger Pratt composes a stately movie with excellent definition and surprising clarity.

Possibly an older scan from the negative, the film elements are in solid shape with just a hint of telecine wobble and minor debris. A rich contrast and lush colors amplify the outstanding exterior shots taken in Oxford. Outside of select scenes littered with halos, this is a film-like transfer of great quality.

The 1080p video boasts adequate grain structure and thick black levels. Universal released their own version of Shadowlands on Blu-ray back in 2019. Without having seen that disc, I’d wager these different releases share the same basic film basic scan from the negative with differing video encodes. Videophiles bothered by the slightest problems will likely prefer the earlier Universal BD, though expect visible ringing there as well.

The main feature runs 131 minutes on a BD-25, encoded in a serviceable but underwhelming AVC effort. A touch of compression artifacts and noise creep into the darkest scenes with heavy density. All that being said, this Blu-ray represents a tremendous improvement in real HD terms over the ancient DVD. The picture quality is improved by leaps and bounds.


George Fenton’s lovely orchestral score, replete with church choir hymns and classic organ music, is a real treat in the stout 2.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. The dialogue-driven biopic offers a fine stereo mix with intelligible audio exchanges and mild separation when necessary.

Fidelity is peerless, immaculately recorded in studio clarity. There is enough hump throughout the dynamic range for a full-sounding sonic presentation. Shadowlands has nice tonality and rewarding sound design.

Optional English SDH subtitles play in a white font, inside the scope projection.


In what may be a first for the budget label, Mill Creek has one-upped Universal. Shadowlands made it out earlier on Blu-ray from Universal as recently as 2019 in a barebones edition. While the video encode on Universal’s disc may be a touch better, you are probably better off getting this Mill Creek BD for its impressive bonus feature. Composer George Fenton, a close working companion of Richard Attenborough on many films, shares his thoughts in an excellent overview of his career with the director.

The disc is coded for Region A and a Retro VHS slipcover is available in early pressings.

The Garden Valley: Scoring Shadowlands Featurette (18:26 in HD) – A robust look at the film’s scoring by composer George Fenton, discussing his working relationship with Richard Attenborough on several projects while clips from Shadowlands play.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided by the distributor for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle all review material, please visit our about us page for more details.

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Based on the true story, famed author C.S. Lewis (Anthony Hopkins) finds a surprising love connection with American Joy Gresham (Debra Winger) in this quietly affecting drama.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 49 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray:

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