Set within the cloistered, excessively male confines of 1952 Oxford, Richard Attenborough tackles yet another “true story” and this time comes away with something quite a bit more substantial than Robert Downey, Jr. in greasepaint. The true story in question is that of C.S. Lewis (Hopkins) and his love for -- and eventual marriage to -- a headstrong and thoroughly American writer by the name of Joy Gresham (Winger). When Lewis receives a letter from this young woman saying she will be visiting London and would like to meet him, he agrees, thinking it will only be a cup of tea, an hour of polite conversation, and no more. Instead, he finds himself quite taken with her and invites her (and her young son Douglas, beautifully played by Mazello) to the house he shares with his brother Warnie. He's not sure what to make of this forthright poet, who continually challenges him -- half in jest -- on his beliefs and picks at his brain, questioning every aspect of his life at Oxford and life in general. Their discussions range from his teaching methods to theology (“I used to be an atheist, too, when I was young,” he tells her), but before long, it is time for her to return to America (her husband, an alcoholic philanderer, has asked for a divorce). When she returns to London, they take up again, and, to the surprise of both, find themselves falling in love, though it's not until Joy falls victim to an advanced form of bone cancer that they are properly married, “in the eyes of God.” Hopkins seems to be making a watershed industry out of playing repressed Britons these days -- his role here has more than a little in common with his role as the butler in The Remains of the Day,
but the two characters are nevertheless separate and distinct and wonderful. Winger is also excellent; her Joy is such a whirlwind of honesty and intellect that Lewis's entire world is knocked a few degrees off kilter. Neither one of them is ready for what happens, least of all him, and half the time he's reduced to intellectual fumbling as he tries to sort out what's going on in his heart and how it might affect his stringent personal philosophy. Attenborough, thankfully, has restrained his too-often heavy directorial hand and let the story -- and the panoramic Oxford countryside -- speak for themselves, unhindered by his occasionally spotty sense of history.