It has taken me a long time to get around to watching The Theory of Everything, thanks to a truly irritating trailer that circulated before Christmas which was a ‘Behind the Scenes/Please PLEASE puuurlease please watch this film’ trailer, interrupting the sacred pre-film teaser trailer reel like an unwanted kernel of un-popped corn entering my mouth. The idea of a Dr. Stephen Hawking biopic pretty much sells itself; I don’t need to see the whole film in shutter-speed to convince me.
Purged of said trailer and buoyed by the film’s recent award nominations, I decided to give it a go. For anyone who doesn’t have a broad idea of the life and achievements of Hawking, James Marsh’s film is the perfect amuse-bouche. Focusing on the relationship between Hawking and his first wife, Jane, and based on her own memoirs of their marriage (‘Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen’), the film serves as a window into their relationship, family life and ultimately Hawking’s diagnosis of Motor Neuron Disease. The film of course hinges around Hawking, played by the astonishing Eddie Redmayne in a role which completely devours him, much like the disease, transforming Hawking from a disarming genius, into a scientific demigod, paralysed, recognised by millions and inspirational the world over. Though the script is often quite fluffy (especially in the ‘falling in love’ scenes) Redmayne is able to portray Hawking’s charm and wit, even as Hawking’s instantly recognisable computerised voice takes that facet of the performance away from him.
Felicity Jones refashions her ‘nice posh girl’ typecast and matures into the role of Jane. Though this is Redmayne’s film, Jones excels as her character wearies, showing how her love for Hawking tests her own strength to fight the diagnosis and raise a family. It has been noted that because the narrative focuses so much on Jane and the unique constraints and lifestyles choices that faced the Hawkings, that the science of what made Dr. Hawking world-renowned has been overshadowed. But while Hawking still lives and continues to work, even disproving his earlier theories which changed modern science, their are other stories about his extraordinary man which can also be told. We do get to see Hawking continuing to work, defying prognosis and re-evaluating his own discoveries. The story that is being told here however, is a portrait of marriage from inception to separation. It is a glossy film, made to attract attention but not to thoroughly educate you of Hawking’s work.
I do get the impression that the film was heavily cut with extended family scenes fitting in awkwardly around the one-to-one scenes between Jane and Stephen. Emily Watson appears so fleetingly that I can only imagine that there was more to come from that casting. When we finally see Jane and her mother (Watson) together the scene seems out-of-place and cold to the viewer. Coming in at over two hours long, it does seem that the hard science and extraneous plotlines where left out in favour of the central relationship between Stephen and Jane.
The Theory of Everything is an accomplished film with an important story to tell. In a classic ‘the woman/man behind the genius’ tale, we get to see a richly heartfelt portrayal of illness and human endeavour. A love story that extends beyond the earthly ties of marriage and wraps a narrative around the uneasy battle between science and faith. Bound to annoy those who want more insight into Hawking’s work and less about an extraordinary marriage, The Theory of Everything tries to please the broadest of audiences possible and will no doubt attract plaudits come awards season. Jones’ and Redmayne’s stars will continue to rise, quite rightly so. And as for Dr. Hawking himself? Well, his star has always shone the brightest in the universe.