Biopics have long been an example of the repetitive formulae being constantly churned out by Hollywood. Between some of film’s best (A Beautiful Mind, 12 Years A Slave) and some of the worst (Amelia, J. Edgar), biographical films have a history of struggling to find the balance between an individual’s personal life and that of their notability. Rarely are we exposed to people in ways that reveal the truth about their occupation and the intricacies of their personal relationships.
Fortunately, The Theory of Everything takes a chance at trying to explore this duet of the professional and the private life. Opening in 1963, The Theory of Everything portrays the astonishing past of scientist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne), from his early days at Cambridge University, where he falls in love with literature student Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), to his life-changing theories, with his shocking debilitating motor neurone disease at the centre of the drama. Surprisingly, for a film about a scientist, there is very little science involved. Instead, director James Marsh (Man on Wire, Project Nim) brings a simple and humanistic appeal to Hawking, directing the attention of the film to the marital drama of an everyday husband and his anguished wife over a narrative about the fame of a scientist and his findings.
Adapted from the memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen written by Wilde herself, the film is a rare insight into a man we think we know, but actually don’t. In the acting capacity, Eddie Redmayne dazzles as Hawking, bringing an authenticity to the role that is rare for such a young actor. Having worked with a choreographer to portray the exact level of mobility during each stage of Hawking’s life, Redmayne becomes the scientist himself, capturing the well-natured humour synonymous with the mechanically-voiced man. Jones’ portrayal of Wilde doesn’t soar as highly as Redmayne, but still very much succeeds in its own right. She subtly and beautifully portrays the alienated and overburdened wife who gives up her own career for her family, ensuring that a level of mutual respect and consideration permeates through the dialogue. Her devotion in Wilde’s early days plays in sharp contrast to the more difficult years, a testament to Jones’ solid acting. Though the film is more sympathetic to her point of view, Jones doesn’t treat the film like her own, instead working marvellously with the supporting characters and portraying both the good and the bad of Wilde.
Unfortunately, some redundant aspects flicker throughout. There is an overuse of blackouts and close ups, and an important, but minor conflict between Hawking’s agnosticism and Wilde’s Christian belief system is brought up initially, but is lost somewhere during the plot. Likewise, there are moments where the story seems sanitized to shine a positive light on both characters, and the audience can sense it. This, however, does not distract from the script and direction, which are both absolutely dedicated to bringing these characters to life, flaws and all, while at the same time rejecting the “disability porn” anecdote that is common to these kinds of films.
The Theory of Everything is lucky to have an unforgettable and mystifying score by the brilliant Jóhann Jóhannsson, as well as a collection of astonishing actors in supporting roles, including Charlie Cox, Harry Lloyd and Emily Watson. Though some audiences may be disappointed by the lack of Hawking research and discovery, the film radiates charm and heart to the story of a man not entirely known. The film’s distance from the publicized and celebrated career of Hawking is a fresh and interesting amendment to the biopic canon, framed by excellent performances by all. Though at times overambitious and trite, what stands is a fascinating and realistic story of two seemingly ordinary people who are extraordinary in almost every way.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10
Originally published on The Reel Word on 25 January, 2015.
Watch the trailer for The Theory of Everything below: