Capitalizing on Disney’s release of “The Chronicles of Narnia,” this hybrid drama/docu from Faith & Values Media delivers a gauzy reminder of C.S. Lewis’ deep, religious conviction that provided the story’s foundation. Picking up in part where an earlier PBS production on Lewis and Sigmund Freud (as his atheist counterpoint) left off, “Beyond Narnia” deftly examines the author’s early life, the real-life inspiration for the Narnia books and his friendship with, among others, J.R.R. Tolkien. Even for secular-minded types, it’s a worthy companion for anyone who cares to know more about this influential figure.
Neither movie nor documentary, this handsome hour blends interviews with Lewis biographers as well as his stepson, with Anton Rodger portraying Lewis, clad in a smoking jacket, reminiscing about his life. That encompasses his mother’s death during his childhood, the coarsening influence of World War I upon him, his peculiar relationship with a fellow soldier’s mother, mentorship by a professor known as “The Great Knock” (John Franklyn-Robbins) and eventually his conversion to Christianity, becoming one of its most articulate and passionate spokesmen.
The final chapter, meanwhile, essentially mirrors the 1993 movie “Shadowlands,” with Diane Venora as Joy Gresham, the American who Lewis married and fell in love with (in that order) late in his life.
Whatever cynicism the premise and its auspices might invite, Lewis was a quirky, unusual guy, and there is considerable charm in his biography — the most obvious being how his oversight of children relocated away from bomb-strafed London during World War II birthed “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
Writer-director Norman Stone also draws on Lewis’ ample body of work for his narration, ably delivered by Rodger, about these various episodes. (Lewis died the same day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Nov. 22, 1963, just short of Lewis’ 65th birthday.)
While Faith & Values’ mission statement hinges on using television to promote “the vitality of religious experience in everyday life,” “Beyond Narnia” feels less about proselytizing than capturing high points in the life of one intriguingly eccentric writer in a divinely concise package.