From Academy Award winning director James Marsh (Man on Wire) comes the much anticipated film based on the Jane Hawking’s memoir My Life with Stephen, the story of world renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking, as seen through the eyes and experiences of his ex-wife.
Much of Hawking’s story is well known – a genius at Cambridge is given a two year death sentence when it’s revealed he has Motor Neurone Disease – but he defies all odds to not only become one of the most influential physicists of our time, but to still be alive some 50 years after being diagnosed with the crippling illness that renders you immobile – while leaving the brain intact.
It’s this struggle that was always going to make a film about Stephen Hawking a hard one to get right – because it’s a difficult argument to say people are going to want to watch a brilliant man deteriorate before their eyes. And indeed, it is a powerful, often hard-to-watch experience, thanks mainly to the incredible performance from Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild winner Eddie Redmayne – and some pretty spectacular makeup. He looks set to take home the Oscar as well, which is very much deserved.
What makes this film work, however, is that this isn’t the story of his life as much as it is the story about how his romance with a fellow student led to his survival beyond the prescribed years. Yes, it’s a love story in every sense of the word. And it’s about how she struggled alongside him; as this great, funny and charming man wasted away in front of her, all while she had to raise three children – because, as the question answers gracefully – yes, it all still works down there. “It’s sort of… automatic…” / “well I guess that explains a lot about men” as is delivered humourously in one moment between Hawking and his good friend Brian, played strongly by Harry Lloyd.
And there is a lot of humour in the film, as much as it’s a sad topic, because Hawking is a funny man – and its effective delivery makes things even more emotional as the film continues. It’s that mix of happy and sad, as Hawking doesn’t let his illness get in the way of his work or his spirit. There’s a moment in the film when he and Jane are together. He, terribly frustrated, her the same, as she tries to develop a way for them to communicate.
It’s heart-wrenching, but it’s in moments like this that the strength of Eddie’s performance really comes through – and that of the gorgeous and effortlessly charming Felicity Jones, who plays Jane – that they’re able to articulate so much through their eyes and their on screen chemistry. Their performances are what make the film work, alongside solid direction from Marsh, who balances the tones of the film very well – ensuring things never get too “romantic”, “sappy” or “emotional”. He’s done a brilliant job at giving the story justice, while making it something suitable for the screen. This is a solid film from all angles.
Take the music, which has already taken home a Golden Globe, by Icelandic Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. It’s stunning. There’s a humanity to every beat that keeps you watching even in the most emotional or hardest-to-watch moments. Jóhannsson has done an incredible job of making the film’s soundtrack move from gripping to emotional with ease.
The story of Hawking’s relationship with Jane is a beautiful one. It’s ultimately tragic in many ways, but in the film’s final scene, where the two share a moment in more recent times, I don’t think that’s what we’re meant to take away from it at all. This isn’t a tragic story. This is a story of survival, a story of sheer determination, a story of love and everything that comes with it. And it’s a pretty damn good one at that. And hopefully you’ll leave the film feeling just as I did: life is too damn short – we can’t let any excuse get in the way of achieving our dreams, or following our true loves…
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Theory of Everything opens in wide release on Thursday, January 29th.