Saturday 10 January 2015

The Theory of Everything (2015) - James Marsh

The Theory of Everything

Hollywood has a fascination with geeky British scientists at present, what with this and The Imitation Game likely to sweep up at both this year's BAFTAs and Oscars. Cumberbatch vs Redmayne will be the talking point at both awards ceremonies and rightly so (incidentally, Cumberbatch also played Hawking in a BBC film in 2004).

Redmayne's performance as Prof. Stephen Hawking is extraordinarily brave and utterly believable. Physically his resemblance is strong - from the clumsy student to wheelchair-bound author - but it's a subtle and emotional performance that brings plenty of humour to what could have been a purely tragic tale. He manages to express both warmth and pain, often wordlessly through the smallest of eye or lip movements.

There's no doubting that Hawking is a modern genius, but his work and his theories are largely left in the background of the film. Instead this is a romanticised account of his life, with soft focus visuals and an intimate score. Diagnosed with motor neurone disease whilst studying for a PhD at Cambridge, he is given just two years to live, yet with the assistance of his girlfriend (and later wife) Jane (Felicity Jones), he defies the odds. The focus, then, is on his private life, rather than to venture into that great mind - something that proves somewhat impossible, despite Redmayne's performance. Hawking's (arguably selfish) desire to act as a normal family and refusal of help is brushed over, and the film ends at the point he eventually leaves Jane to live with one of his nurses, Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake). He is depicted predominantly as a hero.

Jane, however, is the real hero of the film; Jones is superb. This is ultimately her story, not his - the narrative adapted from her memoirs. The sheer tenacity and strength of character to stand by Hawking are formidable, burdened solely with his care. Tasked with playing both wife and mother to their three children, it's no wonder her eyes begin to stray towards the church choirmaster who offers assistance (Jonathan - Charlie Cox). It's here that Marsh really gets to grips with the material, exploring the dynamic between the characters rather than the mindset of a man suffering from such a debilitating condition.

As a biopic, then, The Theory of Everything is a delicately paced film that can't quite capture this outstanding mind. As a domestic drama, though, this is a hugely emotional and tender film that highlights two performances utterly deserving of their nominations.


Watch: The Theory of Everything is out now.