During this time when many forms of employment are blighted by COVID-19, nowhere are the effects of the virus felt more keenly, arguably, than in the British film industry. With a few exceptions, the pandemic has meant the end of British film production since March 2020.
One of those exceptions is the film that was being shot outside the English university town of Oxford in September 2020. Set in the earlier part of the 20th century, The Most Reluctant Convert tells the story of the conversion of the atheist C.S. Lewis to Christianity.
Filming at The Kilns, C.S. Lewis’ former home, was the director Norman Stone. A double Emmy and double BAFTA award-winning filmmaker with more than 40 years of filmmaking to his name, Stone is also a devout Christian and a devotee of C.S. Lewis. In fact, he has made a number of films about the Christian apologist and writer, most notably the award-winning Shadowlands (1986).
Dressed as C.S. Lewis and looking uncannily like him, McLean stands in one of the rooms of Lewis’ former home still decorated in the English style of the middle of the last century. Although McLean had once visited The Kilns, he admits it is an altogether different matter to be playing its former inhabitant in the house.
Like Lewis, McLean is an adult convert to Christianity. Although Lewis was not instrumental in his initial conversion, the actor is in no doubt that Lewis was “influential in affirming my naïve faith; he gave it a more firm foundation.”
A Limitless Role
McLean started writing the stage play that would become the basis for The Most Reluctant Convert in 2011. By 2017 it was being performed in New York on stage. Since then, McLean has been touring the United States with the play; he reckons that in these last four years he has performed the play more than 300 times.
Given that before The Most Reluctant Convert McLean had been involved in an earlier stage production of The Screwtape Letters, a work also inspired by the book of that title by C.S. Lewis, what accounts for his ongoing fascination with the writer? “I don’t get to the bottom of Lewis,” says McLean. “Most plays, after two or three weeks, you say: ‘I know where this is going.’ But with Lewis, he captures my imagination; he captures my intellect.”
For McLean this is more than just a creative or intellectual “capture.” “His [Lewis’] view of Christ is very deep, fundamental in the sense of a deep organic place,” McLean explains. “So many expressions of Christianity are shallow. Lewis doesn’t buy that. He doesn’t come from a theological background — although, as an amateur theologian, he is fantastic — he comes from a medieval literature background, so the roots [for him] are really deep, as he sees Christianity as the core of Western civilization. This is extraordinary, especially so now, when everyone wants to dismantle Western civilization.”
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