This is the latest in a series of blogs I’ve called “A Year of Unlimited”, which isn’t perhaps the catchiest way to put it, but encapsulates my attempts to blog about every film I see while I’m signed up to the Unlimited service. I’m not linking to every one, so go and find them yourselves!
The last film I saw at Cineworld was a biopic (The Imitation Game) based on a man who achieved great things despite adversity, and The Theory of Everything portrays a man who continues to achieve great things in light of almost impossible odds. Stephen Hawking’s discoveries about space, time and the universe have changed the way we think about our existence and the brain-breaking immensity of space, while he himself continues to defy medical predictions after 50 years of degenerative disease.
What surprised me about this film was how this biopic is not all about Hawking (Eddie Redmayne), but about his first wife Jane (Felicity Jones), and the impact his disease and fame had on her life. The two meet at Cambridge University in the 1960s – he a man of science, and she a woman of faith – and they fall in love, fatefully just before he discovers both his life’s focus in black holes and begins to suffer from motor neurone disease and its prognosis of two years.
Redmayne, who I had only seen in Les Miserables before this, plays Hawking before his diagnosis and deterioration as aloof, cheeky and cerebral, but once the disease starts to take hold, his performance is remarkable (he’d just won a Golden Globe for Best Actor as I wrote this). It takes dedication to portray a man whose paralysis gets worse and removes his ability to move and speak, conveying emotion (as Hawking must) through only his eyes. I was almost more impressed however with Jones as his wife Jane – she has a similar ability in that she can portray deep feeling through her eyes alone, and her suffering we feel as keenly as we do his. She sacrifices her life for the man she loves, and you don’t begrudge her the little happiness or possibilities for enjoyment that she seeks, even if they come in the form of another man, because Jones’ performance is both strong and sympathetic. The story is as much as about her life as Hawking’s, and the ending was surprising in that it does cover (albeit briefly) some of the more salacious parts of Hawking’s later life with a sensitive touch.
Other actors, such as David Thewlis as Hawking’s professor at Cambridge and Maxine Peake as Hawking’s first live-in carer, are good in bit-parts, while Charlie Cox’s Jonathan is an atypical ‘other man’ in that he is nothing but supportive and caring for the Hawking family, while wrestling between his faith and his feelings towards Jane. The film is believably staged in an earlier period of the 20th century, but successfully spans the time between then and now, with director James Marsh bringing a documentary-dominated background to a film that seeks to look beyond the public perception of Hawking.
The film is quite slight, in that there aren’t particularly high-stakes at any point (we know Hawking survives any near-fatal incidents), but it’s the performances that matter, and this is a good film nevertheless, particularly when it comes to the two main characters.