Surprised by Oxford | Third Space
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Surprised by Oxford

For lack a better definition, this film was a pleasant surprise
Tue 26 Sep 2023
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⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 1/2 (out of 5)

Admittedly, upon receiving the invitation to review the film based on Carolyn Weber’s memoir, Surprised by Oxford, the initial reaction was tainted with skepticism. Despite having a stellar cast and being a true-to-life story, it is rare when faith-based films move past the typical stereotypes of the genre. Yet, as the title suggests and being inspired by C. S. Lewis’ classic account of his personal spiritual journey, this production was a, well, for lack of a better definition, a wonderful and pleasant surprise.

The life of Carolyn Drake (Rose Reid) contained as many highs as it did lows, which led her to commit herself to her studies and keep God at a distance. Raised by a single mother, the ravenous reader and brilliant student did all she could to help her mother by doing odd jobs while still performing well in school. Her drive and intellectual gifts eventually led her to receive a full scholarship to Oxford to study literature. Initially, she found it difficult to find her place at the university. Still, she finally found her circle of friends and excelled in her classes. Until she meets Kent (Ruairi O’Connor), who is not only tall, dark, and handsome, but he holds to his devout Christian beliefs. His faith leads Caro to turn her back on any sort of relationship with him, except his quiet determination and patience does intrigue her. Yet, she struggles to see the value of God in her life, which is a barrier for the pair to connect on a deeper level.

To find a screening near you: Surprised by Oxford

On the surface, Surprised by Oxford looks to be a combination of a standard faith-based film set in the university setting and a romantic drama currently on offer at Netflix or Hallmark. Until things take unlikely turns in the writing and screenplay that allow this production to rise above both genres. Writer/director Ryan Whitaker manages to weave the faith journey of Carolyn Weber into a relatively realistic depiction of life in academia. He may have held back on specific aspects of the on-campus elements. Still, there is enough language, sexual innuendo, and alcohol to take this beyond Kendrick or Erwin Brother’s productions which have set the benchmark over the years. Not to say that these story elements distract from the film's overall message, but they provide enough realism to the screenplay to make things believable, refreshing, and engaging.

Yet, the writing and direction will only get you so far in moving things outside of the usual trappings of the genres mentioned. What allows this movie to break the stereotypes is the casting of talented actors. This is where Whitaker manages to lift his creation to unexpected heights. Not only did he find capable leads to carry most of the storyline, but they were also surrounded by an exceptionally gifted and recognisable cast. Rose Reid and Ruairi O’Connor are talents worth watching who hold their own within this collection of veteran thespians. While Phyllis Logan (Downton Abbey) is terrific as the Provost Regina Knight and Mark Williams (Father Brown) is subtly brilliant as Professor Nuttham, with a sprinkling of other recognisable actors of different degrees of renown.

Ryan Whitaker does honour the heritage of the land where the film is set by keeping things finely measured without letting the viewer get lost on the journey. The screenplay has predictable aspects that do not diminish the viewing experience. Instead, they complement the film and make it worth finding. Who knows, like me, you may be pleasantly Surprised by Oxford and by supporting a film of this quality may help us all see better productions like this one in the future.

Reel Dialogue: What’s next?

After watching a film like Surprised by Oxford, there will most likely be two responses from viewers. The first category would be the Carolyn Drake’s of the world, who are intrigued that a student at Oxford would even take faith seriously. In the film, the student asks all the right questions and finds the right people to help her along the way. The team at Third Space would love to help you explore life's more profound questions.

If you are skeptical about God, but are desire to ask questions about faith, be sure to reach out to us at Third Space. We would love to chat about this and more.

The second response would be those who have a Christian faith, but need some help knowing how to talk with others about the topic of God. Kent Weber had been trained to share his faith and answer many of the more complex queries from his friend. Would you like to know how to do the same thing with your faith?

If you would like to know how to answer the questions about faith, please contact us at City Bible Forum. We would love to chat about this and more.

The word becomes film

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