Faith-based romantic film ‘Surprised by Oxford’ inspires


By Charles Gardner —

An inspirational afternoon at the movies paved the way for a great weekend. Our first taste of the relatively new and luxurious Savoy cinema in Doncaster was to see Surprised by Oxford, and it was an altogether delightful experience.

Yet again of late, another faith film – based on a true story set in the fairly recent past – is set to challenge our woke ‘anything goes’ culture.

Aspiring young American Carolyn Drake (Rose Reid) wins a post-grad scholarship to Oxford University where she engages with the usual crowd of students letting it all hang out. But among those befriending her are some serious Christians.

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Key to the plot is ‘tall, dark and handsome’ Kent (Ruairi O’Connor), who is clearly smitten by ‘Caro’ but makes it clear, in a rather clumsy way, that he is ‘keeping himself’ for marriage. Much teasing ensues, along with genuine conflict over the relationship extending to their worldviews.

But Kent persuades her to buy a copy of the classic C S Lewis book Surprised by Joy, the story of a ‘reluctant convert’. It also triggers Caro’s spiritual search as her intellectual arguments against a personal God are gradually stripped away.

Oxford is of course steeped in Lewis connections, as it was there that his own faith journey began while lecturing at the famous institution.

Oxford has a special place in my heart too as my South African grandfather also won a scholarship to study there, and the friend who introduced me to a living relationship with Jesus was a student at Wycliffe Hall.

Most unusually, though successfully, the film is introduced by an interview with Carolyn herself, author of the book on which the film is based and the movie’s main character. It certainly authenticates what follows.

It is beautifully filmed, making the most of the city’s ancient and spectacular architecture, its ‘dreaming spires’ and breathtaking surrounding countryside, appropriately included thanks to Provost Regina Knight (played by Downton Abbey star Phyllis Logan) who showed great kindness to Caro and invited her for a weekend at her Cotswold cottage.

The film, also starring Simon Callow, is billed as a romantic drama and I was more than happy to romance my wife by going on a movie date.

But it’s much more than a romantic film, tackling mega intellectual and faith issues of the day, especially where our new generation of students are concerned. It will inspire and encourage believers, and no doubt deeply challenge others who have not considered these big questions that – let’s face it – are ultimately a matter of life and death.

Granted that it was an afternoon outing, competing with the Ryder Cup and the Rugby World Cup (and I too am a sports fan). But I think men in general, and Christian men in particular, need to recapture the vital nature of true romance.

OK, so it wasn’t a huge turnout, but I was the only male in the audience! My masculine friends also need to understand that the gospel is God’s great romance. We are his bride and he is the groom pursuing us with his courtship and love, finally romancing us into his kingdom as we understand how much he has sacrificed to win our affection.

He surely wants us to follow his example of passionately seeking the lost with the hope of introducing them to their heavenly bridegroom. If we are unmoved by God’s romantic gestures, how can we move others?

This film is a ‘must see’ for everyone.