It certainly seems like a Battle of the Boffins this award season. First was the Alan Turing biopic, The Imitation Game, and now we find out about the romantic life of one of the best known science communicators and cosmologists of the last century.
Based on Jane Hawking’s memoir Travelling Through The Infinite: My Life With Stephen, The Theory Of Everything sets a fairly straightforward path as it sails through the cosmology of the great man. Starting with Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) meeting with Jane (Felicity Jones) at a university party, it shows their romance and married life in parallel to the progression of Stephen’s condition and his career. In part this plays like an average romantic tear jerker: well shot, well acted, but little here we haven’t seen before – save for two factors. One is, of course, the extraordinary central character of the piece, Stephen Hawking, a man that has redefined our understanding of the universe and of time, overcoming the ravages of motor neurone disease to do so.
The second is the amazing performance of Eddie Redmayne. It is a transformative performance as he charts the progression of the disease through Hawking’s body. Starting with just some subtle hints of the oncoming condition, the young actor is gradually confined to a wheelchair, losing more and more movement as he goes. Redmayne manages not only to capture the nuances of the man, but harder still, he nails the impish humour of the cosmologist.
This extraordinary performance aside, The Theory Of Everything struggles at times. It is at its best when it is at its lightest (the initial courtship of Jane and Stephen, his relationship with his colleagues, or him playing with his children pretending to be a Dalek), or the visual flourishes when Hawking has a eureka moment (even if one lifts from 2001). When the film tries to deal with the issues surrounding the marriage of Jane and Stephen it becomes strangely coy, skirting around dramas and hinting at infidelities, making the whole exercise seem like a Hallmark movie of the week. Only towards the end of the relationship do we get a scene that manages to capture this dramatic potential between the two actors. This is a moving sequence where Marsh’s tentative approach finally bears fruit, it is just frustrating that the movie couldn’t have more scenes of this emotional intensity throughout.
Despite the few flat spots, The Theory Of Everything is an entertaining enough biopic, that gives a few glimpses that it could have been something more. It may not entirely do justice to its fascinating subject matter, but it does come close enough to be watchable. Besides it has already earned Redmayne a Golden Globe for his portrayal, and may yet earn him an Oscar.