The Theory of Everything (2015) | Oscar Best Actor | DVD blu
Director: James Marsh Writers: Anthony McCarten & Jane Hawking
Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Tom Prior, David Thewlis, Emily Watson, Simon McBurney, Simon Chandler
123mins British Biopic Romance
The challenge every biopic faces is how to generate emotion and a sense of drama into the story of a household name; someone we may feel we know everything about, or even a personality who holds little interest for us. The well-known scientist, Professor Stephen Hawking, is a case in point. Despite his terrible affliction of motor neurone disease, his is not a character whose life inspires particular fascination for people who find science and physics of little interest. Strangely despite these two key elements, James Marsh’s film THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING is one of the most affecting and inspirational biopics I’ve seen in a long time.
The ultimate success of THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING has universal appeal: It is a story about fighting the pain of physical illness made considerably more appealing by the power and poignancy of the enduring love story at its core. Stephen Hawking is a undoubtedly a brilliant man but without the love and stoical support of his engaging first wife Jane (Felicity Jones), he may never have reached the pinnacle of his profession.
The two first meet in the heady days of Cambridge University in 1963, where Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is studying for a PhD in physics, while Jane (Felicity Jones) is pursuing medieval poetry. Almost as soon as they’ve starting dating, Hawking makes the grim and dramatic discovery (after a painful fall) that he’s suffering from motor neurone disease and faces gradual paralysis with only a few years to live. For the next 30 years, until their split in 1995, Jane dedicates her life and strength entirely to his career while bringing up their three children – fortunately Motor Neurone only affects certain muscle groups.
This is very much Eddie Redmayne’s film and he absolutely brilliant in his portrayal of Hawking: a career-defining role that sets him on the same level as Daniel Day Lewis in MY LEFT FOOT. He literally ‘becomes’ the Professor, and his extensive physical and speech training has certainly paid off to evoke a portrait that balances suffering, geeky charm and chipperness in equal measure. It also exudes an emotional intelligence, rare in many scientists, and in the end we completely forget that he is acting.
Anthony McCarten’s script, adapted from Jane’s memoir, “Travelling to Infinity”, very much epitomises English restraint in its discretion and clearly follows the “Never explain, Never Complain” maxim, a quintessential tenet of Englishness. Although there are no shouting matches or extreme displays of anger, it is made potently clear from the dynamite performances of elegant restraint from Jones and Redmayne that raw emotion is aching from every single sinew of their bodies. And although they never ever allow themselves to descend into vulgar slanging matches or crass behaviour of any description somehow this very much adds to rather than subtracts from the drama; I found myself weeping quietly throughout. It is entirely possible, as we have seen from many examples, that people can suffer extreme mental anguish and physical torture and still manage to keep it ‘buttoned up’ and it’s testament to Jane Hawking’s rare restraint that this is very much the case here.
When Jane meets Jonathan (Charlie Cox), a widowed church choir leader, her sexual desires are awakened as she becomes aware of the extreme sacrifices she has made for her own emotional well-being and while she still clearly loves Stephen, as he does her, the toll of their long and arduous battle finally becomes evident as they gradually drift apart emotionally and physically, despite the birth of a third child. This is an emotional epiphany that can often only be experienced when a couple has struggled for a long time against adversity – and it is not borne out of selfish sudden desire to cheat or stray but a dawning realisation that the entire being hungers for satisfaction on a different level, despite the continuing existence of enduring love. And as Jane and Jonathan grow close – platonically, at first – it becomes apparent that their feelings for one another are moving in a direction that eventually neither can deny.
Jonathan, a ‘confirmed Christian’, brings his true Christianity to bear in a part which shows selfless service to this needy couple as loneliness and desires of the flesh start to overwhelm him and also the realisation that spiritually this is a time to move on, offers a fascinating dynamic between the three characters as they continue to ‘bash on’. Cox here gives a subtlety nuanced turn as the Man of God severely put to the test and Jones’s role as a decent woman who’s physical and intellectual needs have been neglected for too long. At this point the flirty comforts of Maxine Peake’s carer Elaine Mason enters their lives, she is eventually to become wife number two.
Eddie Redmayne performance is certainly Oscar material here. He started out in LIKE MINDS (2006) but came to fame in Tom Kalin’s SAVAGE GRACE. Apart from the performances from a superb British cast, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING is wonderful to watch, transporting us back to the dreamy spires of Cambridge, the gentleness of the English countryside, to values that are sometimes now seen as unfashionable and to the memories of when British Rail actually served a decent cup of coffee – with cream. MT
Eddie Redmayne won Best Actor in the 87th Academy Awards | ON DVD Bluray