4 Things You Should Know about Surprised by Oxford

Caro Drake is a young, determined woman with a passion for knowledge. That’s one reason she enrolled at the University of Oxford for her postgraduate studies. She wants to sit under the world’s greatest professors. She wants to sit beside the world’s top students.

For Caro, the pursuit of knowledge is the purpose of life. 

But then she encounters classmates and professors who don’t see the world the way she sees it. They love knowledge -- yes -- but they have a greater love for God. They believe in the supernatural. They believe in the Bible.

“How does someone who believes in talking snakes get into Oxford?” an incredulous Caro asks a friend.

Caro’s Oxford stint grows even more complex when she falls in love with a young Christian man who gives her space to think and to pose questions about life she has never considered. Suddenly, everything she has believed about life is in doubt. 

What will Caro do?

The new movie Surprised by Oxford tells the story of Caro, who embarks on a journey to discover truth at one of the world’s most prestigious institutions.

Here are four things you should know about it:

Photo credit: ©Fathom; used with permission.

1. It’s Based on a True Conversion Story

1. It’s Based on a True Conversion Story

Surprised by Oxford is based on the 2011 memoir of the same name by Carolyn Weber, a scholar and professing Christian who entered Oxford for graduate studies as an agnostic and skeptic.

Her conversion in the film echoes that of C.S. Lewis: She was a brilliant child, reading the Iliad as a young girl and often correcting her professors as she developed an insatiable appetite for knowledge. Like Lewis, she abandoned her faith -- what little she had -- due to a tragedy. Like Lewis, she was won to Christ thanks to the patience of her friends, who allowed her to ask tough questions and gave her room to think. In real life and in the film, she read Lewis’ books.

Today she is a professor at New College Franklin in Franklin, Tenn. Before that, she served on the faculty at Oxford University, Seattle University and the University of San Francisco, among others.

“[They were] very patient with me and I think it's just, again, how Christians embody their talk,” Weber told Crosswalk. “... It was really wonderful to meet Christians from different stripes from all over the world in graduate school. People had different experiences with the Christian faith, but they all believed this ‘Mere Christianity.’ And it was relentless, and it was powerful, and it was ultimately beautiful.”

Christians at Oxford, she said, practiced “fellowship,” not merely “friendship.” 

“Fellowship runs really deep,” she said.

Photo credit: ©Fathom; used with permission.

2. It Features a Few Faces You’ll Know

2. It Features a Few Faces You’ll Know

The cast of Surprised by Oxford includes a few faces and names you may know. Phyllis Logan of “Mrs. Hughes” fame in Downton Abbey portrays Provost Regina Knight, a Christian who befriends Weber and guides her. Mark Williams of Father Brown and Doctor Who portrays Professor Nuttham, who defends the belief in God to his fellow skeptical professors. Simon Callow (The Phantom of the Opera, Victoria, & Abdul) portrays another professor, Dr. Sterling. Rose Reid (Finding You, A Thousand Tomorrows) stars in the lead role. The cast is outstanding.

“I really fell in love with that journey that she was on and I knew I had to be a part of it,” Reid told Crosswalk. (Rose spoke to Crosswalk prior to the actor’s strike.)

It was filmed at Oxford, which producer Ken Carpenter calls a “visual feast.”

“It all plays out in a very romantic, heady, fun, and provocative way,” Carpenter told Crosswalk.

Photo credit: ©Fathom; used with permission.

3. It Encourages Us to Search for Truth

3. It Encourages Us to Search for Truth

Surprised by Oxford is a faith-centric film that doesn’t preach. Even so, it encourages us to tackle life’s greatest questions -- Why are we here? What is life’s purpose? -- as we follow Caro’s journey. We watch Caro attend chapel, not knowing what to do as her classmates cite the Apostle’s Creed. We listen as she reacts to C.S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy. (She’s attracted to Lewis’ description of an “inconsolable longing” in the human heart.)

Of course, many of Caro’s friends and professors are not Christian and oppose the idea of a God who created the universe. Caro, though, is amazed that smart people do believe in God.

One of the film’s greatest strengths is its contrast between the joy found in Christianity and the emptiness of hedonism. A classmate openly brags about his sex-focused life while acknowledging it’s ultimately pointless. (“That's why I want to die very old and in my sleep.”)

All around Caro, classmates are pursuing worldly pleasures. (As she walks to her dorm room one day, she passes by a couple passionately kissing on the steps.) 

Caro wants to fill the longing in her soul. Her pursuit is a word-picture of Ecclesiastes 3:11: God “has planted eternity in the human heart.” As she tells a skeptical professor, “Maybe we reach for something or desire something because that something is there, beyond us.”

Photo credit: ©Fathom; used with permission.

4. It’s Not a Typical Faith-Centric Film

4. It’s Not a Typical Faith-Centric Film

Surprised by Oxford isn’t rated, but likely would garner a PG-13 if it were. It includes some language (details below). The film contains no nudity or bedroom scenes, although it does include a fair amount of discussion about sex itself. (A male student jokes about the female anatomy; a male student asks a female student to shower with him -- she declines; students joke about virginity; a female student says she wants to sleep with a priest; a male student declares to a group of strangers that he and another woman “shagged.”)

The target audience isn’t families with young children but, instead, moviegoers who desire a thought-provoking film about the big questions of life. (“Knowledge only gets us so far. Maybe we were made for longing,” Caro says.)

Surprised by Oxford demonstrates the importance of friendship, fellowship and patience in our interactions with non-Christians. It reminds us to set out hearts not on the things of this world but instead on God and His Kingdom, which bring true joy.

Weber wants moviegoers to pursue truth as they learn of her story.

“God is there and He listens to us and He sees us,” Weber told Crosswalk. “He wants a relationship with us.”

Visit SurprisedbyOxford.Movie.

Surprised by Oxford is unrated. Coarse language: s--t (4), OMG (7), d--n (2), misuse of “G-d” (5)

Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Family-friendly rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Photo credit: ©Fathom; used with permission.


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