UK Release Date: 1st January 2015
Runtime: 123 minutes
Director: James Marsh
Writer: Anthony McCarten
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, David Thewlis, Maxine Peake, Harry Lloyd, Emily Watson
Synopsis: The story of Stephen Hawking’s relationship with his first wife, Jane, his scientific research and his lifelong battle with motor neuron disease.
There’s a very British feel to the Best Actor field at the Oscars this year. It’s the battle of the genius-based biopics as Benedict Cumberbatch’s turn as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game goes head-to-head with Eddie Redmayne’s incredibly impressive take on iconic physicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.
Whilst studying for his PhD at Cambridge University under the tutelage of Dennis Sciama (David Thewlis), Stephen Hawking (Redmayne) meets literature student Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones) at a party and is instantly smitten. Their relationship becomes more complicated, however, when Hawking is diagnosed with motor neuron disease and given two years to live.
The Theory of Everything is a strange beast of a biopic. It’s not a story about a man and his disability, nor is it the tale of a brilliant scientist and his ground-breaking work. The film is the tale of a lifelong romance and a couple perfectly suited to each other, played to delightful effect by two terrific actors in Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.
| "I’m a Cosmologist. It is a kind of religion for intelligent atheists."
Redmayne’s performance as Hawking is at the forefront of everything in the film. The level of physicality he displays, contorting his body to show the various stages of the onset of Hawking’s MND, is nothing short of perfect. It’s a performance that requires real diligence and subtlety and Redmayne does it without it ever feeling as if he’s trying too hard. It’s a remarkable display.
Jones is the glue that holds The Theory of Everything together. Her understated performance is the ideal counterpoint to Redmayne and the two have real chemistry with each other. David Thewlis and Harry Lloyd also give fun, unshowy performances as Hawking’s professor and best friend respectively.
Perhaps most impressive, though, is that The Theory of Everything resists the urge to be a standard, weepy biopic. It is warm and a touch syrupy, but it also had a perfectly judged vein of dark humour at its heart that really gives it some energy. It is willing to make jokes about disability, but they never feel as if they are jokes at Hawking’s expense. It’s a delicate balancing act that Anthony McCarten’s script manages very well indeed.
| "There should be no boundaries to human endeavour."
However, its not all plain sailing. There’s a problem with the script in the sense that The Theory of Everything loses part of the story by focusing in on the romance at its centre.
The science is almost entirely absent from the film, leaving the casual viewer with absolutely no clue what the actual significance of Hawking’s work was. There’s also a real lack of edge to Hawking, with the film painting him as a near-perfect man rather than a realistically flawed individual.
Despite these flaws, The Theory of Everything is an entertaining biopic and an example of cinema driven by performance. The direction is unshowy and the script free of flourishes. It’s all down to the work on the screen, which couldn’t be much better.
Pop or Poop?
Led by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones’ best work, The Theory of Everything is a charming and affectionate biopic that is a tale befitting one of the world’s greatest living Britons.
It seems to shy away from some of the dimensions of Hawking’s life, but it does a great job of portraying his relationship with Jane and the complexities of his illness.
It’s a prestige biopic in every sense of the word, but it never feels generic – and that’s a real achievement.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.