Should I Watch..? The Theory Of Everything
What's the big deal?
The Theory Of Everything is a biographical romantic drama film released in 2014 and is adapted from the memoirs of Jane Wilde Hawking. The film deals with her relationship with brilliant theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, his diagnosis with motor neurone disease and his continued success as a physicist. The film was widely praised by critics upon release with star Eddie Redmayne's performance as Professor Hawking singled out for numerous awards, including an Oscar. While the film makes several minor discrepancies with the truth, Professor Hawking has admitted that the film is "broadly true" and even leant his voice to the production towards the end.
What's it about?
In 1963, astrophysics student Stephen Hawking begins a relationship with literature student Jane Wilde while they both attend Cambridge University. While a brilliant student, Stephen struggles to produce a thesis or even an idea for one. Along with his tutor Professor Dennis Sciama Hawking attends a lecture on black holes and begins to speculate that they may be responsible for the creation of the universe. Suddenly, Hawking has a new drive and writes his thesis on time.
In the midst of his research, Hawking is diagnosed with motor neurone disease which will gradually rob him of the use of his muscles - making him unable to walk, speak or swallow - and giving him a two-year life expectancy. Despite this, Jane stands by Stephen and they eventually marry and start a family. But as the disease progresses and Stephen's health begins to deteriorate, the strain on their marriage becomes increasing prevalent.
Jane Wilde Hawking
Brian, Stephen's friend
Jonathon Hellyer Jones
Anthony McCarten *
Release Date (UK)
1st January, 2015
Biography, Drama, Romance
Best Leading Actor
Academy Award Nominations
Best Film, Best Leading Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score
What's to like?
I often find that a movie with one great performance will often have another, as though the cast step it up when they see someone on form. There is no doubt that the film hangs on Redmayne's astonishing portrayal of Hawking - the heart-breaking transformation from fun-loving student to wheelchair-bound and helpless is utterly convincing, not to mention painful to watch at some points. The inflection of his speech as it weakens and the look of sadness in his eyes win you over with breath-taking ease.
And opposite him, Jones gives a remarkable performance as Jane whose steely determination understandably withers over the years, the toll of her life all too visible. As a carer myself (although my wife's condition is nothing like Stephen's), it's good to see how the health of one affects the health of the other and those around you being shown in movies like this as it is too often overlooked. I fully sympathised with Jane who clearly loves Stephen and would do anything for him but at the same time, feels trapped and utterly powerless to change anything. Jones - who I confess, I hadn't seen in anything before this movie - is equally deserving of Redmayne's plaudits and is surely due more success in the future. The film is a dizzying blend of romance, loyalty, temptation and loss and each period in the life of the Hawkings is perfectly coordinated with accurate set design and costumes. This is the sort of film that us British excel at and rarely does it become boring as a lot of dramas tend to do.
- In an email to the director, Professor Hawking said that there were certain points in the film where he though he was watching himself and not Eddie Redmayne. He said that the film is 'broadly true' and even allowed his voice to be used in the film.
- It took screenwriter Anthony McCarten 10 years to bring the story to film. Seeing Professor Hawking's nurse wipe a tear away from his eye was McCarten's greatest memory from the film's premiere.
- The Swiss doctor treating Professor Hawking is played by none other than former French international and Chelsea footballer Frank Leboeuf.
What's not to like?
As I mentioned at the top, there is some degree of dramatic licence taken with the source material. Stephen's saintly personality is largely left untouched, with the film only briefly hinting at his resistance to doctors and outside help. For her part, Jane's relationship with Jonathon is again skirted over and so we are spared many of the details that might shed further light onto the break-up of the marriage.
There is also very little discussion about Hawking's work - we see that it's clearly controversial and brilliant at the same time but you don't get any sense as to why. I understand that this might not have made the final draft of Jane's memoirs as her religious beliefs would come to clash with Hawking's more pragmatic view of the universe. But a little bit more explaining might have helped those of us who haven't got around to reading "A Brief History Of Time" and are a bit thick.
Should I watch it?
The film might be a bit sugary for some but The Theory Of Everything is an exceptional film of real class. Led from the front by Jones and Redmayne, the movie gives us a tragic look at an ordinary marriage between ordinary people in the most extraordinary circumstances imaginable. It's a reminder that no matter the size of the challenge before us, anyone can overcome the odds. And few know this better than Professor Hawking who made a mockery of that predicted life-span...
Great For: Redmayne's trophy cabinet, couples, the terminally ill
Not So Great For: young children, theoretic physicists
What else should I watch?
Redmayne's performance brings back memories of Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot, the 1989 film about Irish artist Christy Brown who suffered from cerebral palsy. Indeed, there is a tradition of actors playing parts with severe illnesses going on to win awards - former Bond baddie Mathieu Amalric won numerous plaudits for his performance in The Diving Bell And The Butterfly while Christopher Reeve was able to perform despite his actual paralysis in a 1998 TV remake of Rear Window.
Redmayne - who is still at the start of what is surely going to be a long career - has already made an impression. With bit parts in Elizabeth: The Second Age and leading roles in My Week With Marilyn and Les Misérables, he certainly seems to have a knack of picking the right roles. A case underlined when he picked up even more acting nominations for his part in The Danish Girl where he plays Danish artist Lili Elbe, one of the first recipients of gender reassignment surgery. Jones has had a bit more experience but check out her appearance in Star Wars spinoff Rogue One, demonstrating that she's capable of being more than an indie drama darling.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox