The Theory of Everything
|UK Release Date||1st January 2015|
|Reviewed||5th January 2015|
Stephen Hawking's book A Brief History of Time is a multi million selling publication that manages to cram an awful lot of science whilst remaining palatable to the common man. One gets a sense of that happening here with Oscar wining documentary maker James Marsh’s film, The Theory of Everything based on Jane Hawking's memoirs of her life with Stephen. There is a lot packed in to The Theory of Everything but it remains a beautiful and fascinating story of two strong and inspiring people and their desire to be a normal family in an extraordinary set of circumstances. At the heart of the film are two phenomenal performances by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.
Most people in the Western World have an awareness of Stephen Hawking, his brain - and his disabled body. The image likely conjured up most is of a man whose body is slowly (very slowly) being defeated by Motor Neurone Disease. A man who has no throat anymore so speaks through a vocoder that is a bit 'speak and spell'. A man bent up in a wheelchair. A disabled man. The Theory Of Everything takes the very subject Hawking himself is obsessed with – time, and rewinds it back to a young, able-bodied Stephen. Time rewinds to 1963 precisely where a 22 year old Stephen is at Cambridge doing a PHD on… well he hasn’t decided yet but he’s so bloody clever they’re all letting him mull it over. At a party Stephen encounters young Jane Wild, a Spanish and French student and, well, the stars align. The two fall hard and fast, Jane passes muster with Stephen’s academic family and their love blossoms until it is cut down in it’s prime when Stephen takes a tumble and discovers he has MND. The doctor tells him he has two years to live. The Theory Of Everything is about Jane and Stephen overcoming the odds and making their very complicated life work.
The Theory of Everything is a surprising film in a lot of ways. I had pitched it to myself as a straightforward romance and it is a LOT more layered than that. Stephen and Jane’s life was a complicated one, not just because of his disability and fame. A complex relationship with huge amounts of conflicting emotions running through it handled in a balanced and straightforward way by documentarian James Marsh. Considering the film is based on Jane’s memoirs the film comes across as extremely fair. There is perhaps a predatory glint in Maxine’s Peake’s eyes as Elaine the therapist who finally comes between Stephen and Jane but apart from that there is no judgement here.
The script by Andrew McCartner(screenwriter of that classic TV series Wurzel Gummidge Down Under) goes for the emotional jugular and to be honest got me fairly quickly and rendered me tearful almost immediately. A line quite early in started it all off. Stephen has just been diagnosed and is in anger mode, hiding out in his dorm. Jane comes to look for him, calls his name when his back is turned to her and he replies “Stephen isn’t here anymore. You’ve just missed him’. SOB. There are a huge amount of emotional moments in the film, how can there not be? Hawking himself is a living testament to life, to fighting the odds, to keeping a stiff upper lip. His story is so inspirational it would have taken a real philistine to fuck up the movie but McCartner and Marsh have created something magical with the help of Redmayne and Jones. It very occasionally starts veering into TV drama land but manages to pull itself back in the nick of the time.
So of course to Eddie Redmayne. The reviews have been positively sycophantic since the film started to appear on the radar and there is no doubt that he deserves each and every one of them. It is a rare skill to have embodied Hawking as he does. It’s with great subtlety and truth. From our beginnings in Oxford we see awkwardness, something not quite right with our dashing would be physicist. Redmayne’s shy but cheeky smile that he imbues Hawking's character with shines out right through, even to when Hawking can barely move a muscle. It’s just so joyful to see Hawking as a young, charming able bodied man. His humour has always come across so strong so we revel in seeing him as a young man. It’s a triumphant perfomance and Redmayne is an actor of considerable charm and intelligence, one cannot lavish enough praise on him, it is a performance that simply must be seen. As aforementioned Redmayne has had many accolades poured on him but this should not overlook the equal brilliance of Felicity Jones. Jane is a hard character to portray without sympathy for her being overlooked completely in favour of her husband and Jones manages it superbly. The fact that Jane was taking care of three children and a man sized disabled husband is baffling. I will never moan about the school run again. When we finally see her breaking point, Jones has handled Jane with enough skill that we understand, we empathise, we cry with her. The two of them are a stupendous combination and have a chemistry that would elicit emotion from even the most cynical of viewers.
Other cast are somewhat hit and miss in that they have somewhat strange roles to play with: Emily Watson has a positively bizarre little scene, David Thewlis is his usual charming affable self as Hawking's professor and Simon McBurney veers from good cop to bad cop as Stephen’s dad. Maxine Peake doesn’t have much to chew on as glamorous ‘cuckoo in the nest’ Elaine but it’s always nice to see her face. Charlie Cox does a nice human puppy job on Jane’s ‘helper’ choirmaster Jonathon. But look, we all know that really it’s the Redmayne / Jones show. So let’s get back to watching them.
The science ‘bits’ are also handled with a mind to appealing to the wider audience (physics for dummies). Around dinner tables peas and carrots represent God and Physics and beer swirled round a beer mat demonstrates black holes and particles. Marsh, like Hawking himself, attempts to make the difficult: understandable, the complex: digestible. It means we can take every part of the story as a whole; we are not alienated by the science. The science is palatable and exciting and the use of light and camera angles to reflect moments of inspiration or physical despair in Stephen are played out nicely and give a nice feeling of being part of the cosmic universe that Hawking is so keen to unlock.
It’s a lovely film The Theory of Everything. It was reminiscent at times of another of my favourite and most emotional films – Iris. Both have enormous charm, are quintessentially British, have great emotional intelligence and feature heart-breaking performances at their core. If this film doesn’t make you feel blessed to have your health and make you squeeze your loved ones a bit harder (whilst reading The Universe in a Nutshell) then, well, I wash my hands of you.
Check out the trailer here.