Movie review by
Rich Phippen, Common Sense Media
Shadowlands Movie Poster Image
C.S. Lewis biopic has great performances but no kid appeal.
  • PG
  • 1994
  • 131 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Selflessness and compassion are key themes. Characters are caring and thoughtful. Assumptions are challenged. Loss, grief, and faith are explored.

Positive Role Models & Representations

On the whole, characters are upstanding with good intentions. They're all upper-class. C.S. Lewis becomes devoted and selfless. Joy is the only female character, but she's depicted as smart, strong, independent minded. Some of the male characters are patronizing. 


Character falls and breaks a leg. Spoiler alert: Character dies of cancer.




"Balderdash" and "good Lord" are as strong as it gets.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink in moderation in a pub and at social events. A raucous celebration depicts some drunkenness; characters drink champagne from the bottle. An unseen character is referred to as an alcoholic. Characters smoke cigarettes and pipes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Shadowlands is a highly regarded yet slow-moving period drama about the life of British author C.S. Lewis (Anthony Hopkins), who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia books. A love story is at the heart of the movie, but the only depiction of anything sexual is two brief kissing scenes. Themes of love, faith, compassion, and loss are adult-centric, and not written with a young audience in mind. Spoiler alert: One character dies of cancer. Joy (Debra Winger) is the only female character, but she's established as being far more interesting than the men around her. Many scenes feature alcohol, although only one shows someone having too much. Characters smoke pipes and cigarettes (accurate for the era). "Balderdash" and "good Lord" are the strongest words used.

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What's the story?

SHADOWLANDS tells the story of highly respected author, poet, and teacher C.S. Lewis (Anthony Hopkins) -- or Jack, as he's known to his friends. Jack lacks passion in his life, but when he meets Joy (Debra Winger), a bullish, frank American woman he's been corresponding with, she ignites something in him. Jack finds himself questioning whether he's willing to allow himself to have feelings for her -- something he hasn't allowed himself to do for many years.

Is it any good?

Understated, nuanced performances from Hopkins and Winger do justice to a script that subtly explores the feelings and emotions of the lead characters. Winger was nominated for Best Actress Oscar for her performance as Joy, while Hopkins' portrayal of Jack earned him a BAFTA for best actor. Richard Attenborough's direction is unfussy, leaving the actors to do their thing against picturesque backdrops of the English countryside. 

The lack of action in Shadowlands -- very little happens beyond the lead characters talking in a variety of settings -- means that younger audiences may struggle to climb onboard. But for those who do, the performances are so engaging that it's impossible not to feel touched by the relationships depicted on screen.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the relationship between Jack and Joy in Shadowlands. Why do they take so long to admit they have romantic feelings for one another? Could Jack have communicated his affections in a better way? Did they miss out by not doing it earlier?

  • Discuss the death in the movie. How did it make you feel? Does the fact that the movie is based on real events impact how you feel?

  • How does Jack demonstrate compassion?

  • Why do you think there are so few women in Jack's world? Do you think it's a realistic portrayal of the time period? Have times changed?

Movie details

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