C.S. Lewis scholar, Michael Ward, returned to Hillsdale last Wednesday, but this time on the big screen. 

In 2015, Ward was Hillsdale’s com­mencement speaker. The accom­plished senior research fellow at Oxford Uni­versity and pro­fessor of apolo­getics at Houston Baptist Uni­versity played the role of the parochial vicar in “The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis.”

The film was released in a single-screening capacity across the United States, but has been so suc­cessful that new and extended screenings are being con­sidered. 

“Dis­tri­b­ution of movies is expensive, so the idea was to give the film a very limited release and thereby con­cen­trate interest on a par­ticular date,” Ward said. “As a result, the film was no. 1 in the U.S. in terms of seats occupied per theater on the day it screened, November 3rd, meaning it beat ‘Dune’ and other blockbusters.”

Ward has ded­i­cated much of his life to studying Lewis, espe­cially while writing his book “Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imag­i­nation of CS Lewis,” and encourages others to look at the author in the same vein. 

“If you don’t yet know Lewis’s books, espe­cially “Sur­prised by Joy,” which pro­vides most of the screenplay for this movie, check them out,” Ward said. “They’re well worth reading, and re-reading.  I’ve been studying Lewis’s works for most of my adult life and haven’t got tired of them yet.”

The screening began with an in-depth look at the film’s pro­duction, with com­mentary from the actors and crew.

The movie was adapted from the stage play that Max McLean, the founder of the Fel­lowship for Per­forming Arts in New York, both wrote and starred in.  In the film, McLean plays the con­tem­porary version of Lewis, who served as a nar­rator for the scenes depicting his early life.

“The story is told mostly in flashback,” Ward said. “We see the older Lewis, played by Max McLean, speaking directly to the camera, explaining his spir­itual progress. Else­where in the shot we see his younger self, played by Nicholas Ralph, enacting whatever it is that’s being described.”

“Either there’s no God behind the uni­verse, a God indif­ferent to good and evil, or worse: an evil God,” McLean says, describing the thoughts of a young Lewis. 

In the initial flash­backs, the audience watches as Lewis’ mother dies of cancer. Due to the per­ceived failure of his prayers for his mother’s recovery, Lewis denied God’s exis­tence at an early age. 

“At 14, I ceased to be a Christian,” Lewis said. 

Fol­lowing a few scenes high­lighting his descent into immorality, Lewis describes his regret toward being con­firmed, which he did despite being a self-pro­claimed atheist. 

“Cow­ardice drove me to hypocrisy,” Lewis said, illu­mi­nating the effects of his father’s intim­i­dation toward his receiving the sacra­ments. 

As Lewis grew up, he realized that he craved the same level of edu­cation as his older brother. He began to study under his brother’s tutor, William T. Kirk­patrick, nick­named The Great Knock. This is where Lewis said his life really began. 

Once his two-year-long appren­ticeship with Kirk­patrick was over, Lewis enlisted in the army and was sent to France on his 19th birthday. He was severely wounded and fell ill several times during  his deployment. He began working at Mag­dalen College in Oxford after his time in the service. 

Two years later, Lewis found himself believing in Jesus Christ for the first time while in the side-car of a motor­cycle on the way to the zoo. 

“Telling the story of Lewis’s con­version, including Tolkien’s part in it, helps remind viewers that Chris­tianity is some­thing intel­lec­tually respectable,” Ward said. “It’s some­thing that has helped produce much of the greatest lit­er­ature, and art, and music, and archi­tecture to be found any­where in our culture. And that’s quite apart from the most important element of all, namely the sal­vation of souls!”

Thanks to the influ­ences of his fellow pro­fessors and friends, including J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis admitted to the exis­tence of a God in 1929. The film ended with Lewis receiving com­munion in his local church.

“Unlike my first com­munion 17 years earlier, I now believed,” Lewis said. 

This scene is par­tic­u­larly special because it was filmed at Holy Trinity Church in Oxford, where Lewis is buried. 

“I had the slightly spooky, in a good sense,  expe­rience of looking out from the vicar’s stall in the church and seeing in the con­gre­gation two C.S. Lewises, – one older, one younger – and both of them looking very, very much like the real man,” Ward said. 

The film screened in two sep­arate the­aters, both of which were filled with members of the college and local communities.

“As a Christian movie, you worry when going into it, will this just be a good Christian movie, meaning it has a good message but it sac­ri­fices artistic integrity,” said Blake McAl­lister, assistant pro­fessor of phi­losophy. “That was not the case, it was just a good movie.”

Other viewers appre­ciated the cre­ative lib­erties taken in the film. 

“I really liked how it was done in a story-telling way,” freshman Anna Baldwin said. “I feel like C.S. Lewis would have liked that.”