DIR: James Marsh • WRI: Anthony McCarten • PRO: Tim Bevan, Lisa Bruce, Eric Fellner, Anthony McCarten • DOP: Benoît Delhomme • ED: Jinx Godfrey • DES: John Paul Kelly • MUS: Jóhann Jóhannsson • CAST: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Tom Prior
The due note to make to oneself prior to a screening of The Theory of Everything is that it is first-and-foremost an adaptation of Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, the memoir of one Jane Wilde Hawking, ex-wife of Stephen, and played with gentle enthuse by Felicity Jones in this year’s first hum-dinger, give-me-an-Oscar biopic. It is not, by any stretch, an attempt to adapt or even mildly document the theoretical physics of Stephen Hawking but rather to angle into his complicated family life a representation that appropriates unconditional love rather than didactic sympathy. This is a film that proudly depicts a life it considers nothing short of wonderful, which is an altogether pleasant surprise in the all-too-predictable mirage-like jungle of violin-screeching would-be biopics that yearn for sympathy above admiration, a quality that I, as an audience member, would, with the odd exception, personally necessitate of any subject considered worthy of a biopic.
The story begins in a rather dull manner, with Eddie Redmayne’s Hawking peddling metal giddily through the campus of Cambridge University in sequence that could be dropped into Chariots of Fire as easily. As a matter of fact everything progresses in a business-as-usual fashion until Stephen’s diagnosis with motor neuron disease, which is a pity considering that which is remarkable about the man commenced somewhat before this but forgivable considering the source material and emotional drive of the narrative.
The film’s greatest strengths are Eddie Redmayne, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score, Benoît Delhomme cinematography and, at risk of crowding the list of highlights, one must credit James Marsh’s helming of the project entire, which echoes his previous Oscar-winning effort, Man on Wire, in a most joyful manner by presenting Professor Hawking as a man who’s physically the yin to that films uber-athlete’s (tightrope walker Phillipe Petit) yang and yet a kindred spirit in terms of sheer zest for life and experience.
Any plaudits thrown the way of this film, however, should, and will, land at the feet of Eddie Redmayne and the towering, joyous, magnetic performance he delivers to dwarf even the mighty David Thewlis, who here barely registers as Hawking’s Cambridge supervisor. Redmayne gives his body and soul to the character, in particular his eyes and hands, and it is the goods he delivers that allow the story to function well around the script’s driving theme; that the belief that everyone and everything has a place (the romantic application of the titular Theory of Everything that Hawking purportedly worked for most of his life), when applied to oneself has the ability to fill in even the most seemingly hopeless potential pits of despair. This is, above all, a life-affirming film on an almost spiritual level, something one feels Richard Dawkins would admonish were anyone to ever consider him worthy of a biopic.
The snags in the story, however inevitable, are rather course. The action moves along far too predictably to stand out as memorable, with some moments practically written around a template of Oscar-baiting schmaltz. The story lacks any real reference to any physics whatsoever, which comes across as a tad disrespectful to the audience this film will attract, namely one interested in the life of one of history’s most renowned physicists and, once again, as these stories are wont to do, everyone featuring is far too pretty and polished to care for on a realistic level. Overall though, the good moments outweigh the bad and this is by no means a trying way to spend a couple of hours indoors though not one you’re likely to remember a great deal of.
12A (See IFCO for details)
The Theory of Everything is released 2nd January 2015.