An extraordinary find in a train station’s secondhand bookshop, George MacDonald’s Phantastes, changed C.S. Lewis’s life—and 20th-century literature—forever. While reading it “my imagination was baptized,” says writer and star Max McLean as Lewis. “The rest of me,” he
adds with a grimace, “took a little longer.” The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis is extraordinary in its own ways.
Based on McLean’s one-man play of the same name, the film relates Lewis’s journey from teenage atheist to one of the great thinkers and apologists of the last century. Most of the words are Lewis’s own, taken from his various works. The beauty of Lewis’ writing is that while the thoughts are complex the style is conversational.
Thanks to McLean’s studied performance, we feel as though it’s the man himself speaking directly to us over beers in the pub or out for a leisurely stroll. Between his monologues various actors portray Lewis in his youth (most notably Nicholas Ralph, known for his role on All Creatures Great and Small) as McLean’s Lewis looks on, like Scrooge revisiting Christmases past. Far from being a documentary or recorded stage performance, the film is not a traditional biopic or drama either. It’s an intimate experience with an elder statesman of the faith.
Always an intellectual, with a very dark side only hinted at here, Lewis’ conversion was tortured and considered. But the film moves with nothing but grace. It’s beautifully shot, with a luxurious quality of production. At a very lean 73 minutes it is dense but never dull. I was engaged the whole time.
For the postmodern, Lewis’ logical arguments as presented in works like Mere Christianity won’t have emotional resonance. It’s unfortunate, because as appealing as his fiction is, the nonfiction is where his intellect shines. What the filmmakers have done here is dramatize the reasoning that brought Lewis to undeniable truth and closer to joy, in ways similar to how the Romantic poets also swayed Lewis’ thoughts and feelings.
A friend’s teenage daughter summed up the lesson of the movie well when she said it shows that when we are resisting something with all our heart and soul, it’s very likely the thing God wants for us. There’s more to the life of any man or woman than can be contained in a little over an hour. Here the focus is solely on his way to faith, which might leave some viewers asking for more. Yet by maintaining a narrow focus we’re able to really appreciate what a monumental transformation this was for Lewis.
Originally a very limited release, The Most Reluctant Convert is now available to rent from all the major digital retailers.(Fellowship for Performing Arts)