Everyone knows Stephen Hawking, the world’s most famous living physicist, author of a Brief History of Time, now so famous that he’s appeared on everything from The Simpsons to Star Trek. He is also the most famous motor neurone survivor.
From his bleak diagnosis in the 1960’s, The Theory of Everything follows the controversial physicist’s career from undergraduate to CBE, via walking sticks, wheelchairs and that world-recognised speech synthesiser. A lyrical, high-gloss movie in the tradition of understated British bio-pics, not afraid to take it’s time on lingering shots, but still managing to capture thirty years of Stephen and Jane Hawking’s lives together.
Eddie Redmayne (My Week with Marilyn, Jupiter Ascending) undergoes an Award-winning physical transformation that captures perfectly Hawking’s legendary sense of humour, both as an academic and a family man. Even in his second-half confinement to the chair, Redmayne imbues Hawking with the Puckish quality of the Lord of Misrule at home and the maverick of science.
Yet for all that Redmayne joins the physical actor’s Hall of Fame alongside Hoffman (Rainman) Day-Lewis (My Left Foot) and Mills (Ryan’s Daughter), it is Felicity Jones (The Invisible Woman) who holds the emotional heart of the movie as Jane, from whose book the script is adapted.
Starting strongly as the bright undergraduate, Jones’ delicate performance is clearly a match for Redmayne’s brilliant eccentricity. It’s been unfairly said that Jones as Jane Hawking drops out of her own story, but only during the diagnosis sequence where the focus necessarily has to be on Redmayne coming to terms with a two-year prognosis and a slow death.
Otherwise Jones holds her own in a career-making performance, as the wife, mother and academic in her own right, coping with the difficulties Hawking’s illness brings.
A quality supporting cast features Maxin Peake as nurse Elaine, room-mate Harry Lloyd (Game of Thrones), Simon McBurney (The Borgias) as Hawking’s father, Emily Watson as Jane’s mother and Charlie Cox (Stardust) as Jane’s future husband Jonathan. David Thewliss (Harry Potter) shines warmly as Hawking’s tutor alongside Christian McKay (Rush) as inspirational Roger Penrose.
Directed by James Marsh with the retro-feel of a restrained British Chariots of Fire (‘imminent tragic death, but you know, mustn’t grumble’) and the magical quality of a Harry Potter, Anthony McCarten’s excellent script is underlined by a beautiful score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, ever present, but never intrusive.
No heroes, no villains, some tragedy, all triumph, The Theory of Everything deserved all its awards and more. RC
The Theory of Everything (2015)
Director: James Marsh
Writer: Anthony McCarten
Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements and suggestive material)
Running time: 2 hr. 3 min.
Genre: Drama, Adaptation
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Maxin Peake, Harry Lloyd, Simon McBurney, Emily Watson, Charlie Cox, David Thewliss, Christian McKay