Richard Attenborough: “Shadowlands”

“The pain then is part of the happiness now. That’s the deal.”

So says Joy Lewis to her husband, Jack, as they are enjoying their honeymoon in Herefordshire, England’s Golden Valley. Joy’s terminal cancer is in a brief remission, and Joy and Jack are reveling in their love and in their precious time together. Jack is better known to the world as C.S. Lewis, the author of a series of books on Christian theology as well as the famous Chronicles of Narnia children’s books.

Joy’s line – about the inextricable intermingling of pain and happiness, sorrow and joy – comes near the end of Richard Attenborough’s film Shadowlands, which tells the unlikely love story between American poet Joy Davidman Gresham and the Oxford University professor C.S. Lewis. The screenplay was written by William Nicholson, based on his stage play of the same name. Nicholson’s work was influenced in part by Douglas Gresham’s book Lenten Lands: My Childhood with Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis.

A staid and confirmed bachelor, Jack – as he is known to his friends – has lived throughout his adult life with his brother, Warnie, also a staid and confirmed bachelor. They have friendly but distant relationships with the other professors at Oxford (virtually all men). They tutor students, dine at the university, smoke their pipes in convivial pubs, sip sherry in the evenings at their quiet home, maintained for them by their housekeeper, Mrs. Young.

When Joy Gresham appears on the scene, she arrives in full living color. “Anybody here called Lewis?” she practically shouts at the hotel when she goes to meet Jack and Warnie for the first time.

Jack will never be quite the same after meeting Joy. It takes him an inordinately long time to realize he’s in love with Joy – much longer than it takes the viewer to see his growing feelings for her. It is a delight to see their love and tenderness for each other unfold, especially to see Jack succumb to this late-in-life explosion of feeling, unsettling his predictable, safe life.

To learn more about C.S. Lewis, visit the official C.S. Lewis website, which includes a timeline of Lewis’s life. At the C.S. Lewis Foundation website, you can tour Lewis’s home (known as The Kilns) and explore a walking tour of Oxford. An interesting chapter of Lewis’s life is explored in Colin Duriez’s book Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship. You may be particularly interested in Lewis’s book A Grief Observed, which was written under a pseudonym and which tells of his struggle to come to terms with Joy’s death.

To learn more about Joy Davidman (also known as Joy Gresham), an accomplished writer in her own right, you can visit the Wikipedia page on her and the Modern American Poetry page on her work. A biography of Davidman and an overview of her work can also be found at the C.S. Lewis Institute website. You might also want to read Lyle Dorsett’s biography of her, And God Came In: The Extraordinary Story of Joy Davidman, and Abigail Santamaria’s biography, Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis.

Shadowlands is very much worth watching, starring Anthony Hopkins as C.S. Lewis and Debra Winger as Joy Gresham. You can explore Jack and Joy’s story even more fully by reading Brian Sibley’s book Through the Shadowlands: The Love Story of C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman.

I first saw the film when it came out in 1993 – and the line about the marriage of pain and happiness has stayed with me these many years since. I watched the film again last week and was as deeply moved again as I had been the first time I heard those words. As the film ends, we witness Jack – the famed C.S. Lewis – transformed from the boy who chose safety in response to loss to the man who chooses suffering – the price for a great and true love.

“Why love if losing hurts so much?” Jack asks at the end of the film. That’s the deal – joy and sorrow, love and loss – all bound up together, no having one without the other. “The pain now is part of the happiness then.”

Watch:Watch the scene where Joy and Jack talk together in their honeymoon in Golden Valley.

 

Comments

  1. Very moving post, Linda. Thank you for these wise and wide-open-to-loving words.

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