Author and Oxford don, C. S. Lewis (Anthony Hopkins), lives a sheltered life as a bachelor, sharing a house with his brother. In 1952 he meets an American woman, Mrs. Joy Gresham (Debra Winger). They become friends when Joy moves to England with her young son, Douglas, divorcing her alcoholic husband; when Joy is in danger of losing her visa, Lewis agrees to marry her so that she can become a British citizen.

The marriage appears to be purely a technicality. This is in part because of Lewis’s emotional frigidity with people, which is contrasted with the profundity and energy of his engagement with books and ideas. Joy eventually confronts him about this, and at about the same time she is diagnosed with advanced cancer.

The prospect of her death disrupts Lewis’s ideas about God, suffering, and human relationships, prompting a crisis that leads him to recognize his love for her. Their legal marriage is consecrated in her hospital room and, after radiation treatment puts her in remission, Joy and her son move in with Lewis. After a few months, she dies. Lewis is left with a new knowledge of the real paradoxes of love, connection, loss, and suffering.


Based on C. S. Lewis’s own memoir, A Grief Observed this film and the play on which it is based offer a moving and coherent account both of Lewis’s intellectual views on the meaning of suffering and of the way those ideas were confronted and adjusted by his personal experience. The film implies that Lewis, after the death of his mother when he was nine, avoided love in order to escape suffering. His theoretical work extrapolates the value of suffering, most famously summed up by his epigram: "Pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf world."

He discovers his love for the fortuitously-named Joy at the same time that he is forced to recognize that he will lose her, and that he will also first have to witness her terrible physical suffering (there are some interesting insights into the treatment of cancer in the mid-20th century). Lewis’s learning process is nicely captured by his anguished question to a nurse at Joy’s bedside: "Is this pain really necessary?" We are left unsure of the answer, but in that uncertainty we are encouraged to consider more profoundly the inextricable connections between ideas and embodied human experience, and between suffering and love.


Screenplay by William Nicholson, based on his stageplay of the same name, which was in turn based on C. S. Lewis’s memoir, A Grief Observed. Anthony Hopkins received the BAFTA award (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) for leading actor; Debra Winger and William Nicholson were nominated for Academy Awards.

Primary Source

HBO Home Video