Genre: Biography, Drama
Directed by: James Marsh
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, David Thewlis, Charlie Cox, Emily Watson
Had it been placed in the wrong hands, The Theory Of Everything would doubtless have been a sentimental yawn more concerned with making an impression on the Academy than the paying public. When held in the firm grasp of a focused filmmaker though, the outcome is something altogether more stimulating.
James Marsh, a director who has already proved himself a dab hand at crafting affecting tales about individuals overcoming extreme adversity with the documentary Man On Wire, approaches Stephen Hawking’s story with discipline. He’s not simply content with recounting the great physicist’s tribulations and triumphs. Instead, Marsh places the different elements of his subject’s life under the microscope, and uncovers a biopic that’s intimate and engaging.
This isn’t the first time Hawking’s life has been dramatized however. The meekly titled 2004 TV movie Hawking, starring a then unknown Benedict Cumberbatch, sensitively observed how the theorist managed to achieve ground breaking advances in his field of study while battling an ever more debilitating disease. Treating this televisual treatise as a companion piece, Marsh wisely turns his attentions away from the science. The script, composed by screenwriter Anthony McCarten, has been adapted from Jane Hawking’s memoir Travelling to Infinity, and the film’s focus rests on the relationship between Jane (Felicity Jones) and Stephen (Eddie Redmayne).
To the credit of both Marsh and McCarten, The Theory Of Everything does a good job of contextualizing its source material. In the deeply profound way, this film is a relatable reflection on the institution of marriage. With attentions firmly rooted on the two central protagonists, the script masterfully peels away at Jane and Stephen’s relationship to examine the enduring hardships felt by both parties when faced with the prospect of battling an unstoppable illness. Delicately drawn out scenes subtly accentuate the marital tensions that would eventually lead to the couple’s separation in 1990.
It is a testament to the power of McCarten’s script that such sections of the film can remain so eminently poignant even though we know the eventual outcome. While the episodic structure and script’s occasional stumble into the realms of the melodramatic does mar the film’s overall impact, the emotional weight augmented by the two terrific lead performances instils the film with a consistently tender and effectual tone.
Redmayne and Jones have each shone with promise in the past, but it is here that they both respectively establish themselves as great pioneers of their acting generation. Naturally, Redmayne’s performance is the more physical of the two. He wholly encapsulates the role of Stephen, and makes the same lasting impact Cumberbatch did all those years ago. Skilfully he contorts his body and voice to match that of Hawking’s, without any unnecessary exaggeration. The pain and humiliation incised on his face as he struggles to convey his own thoughts or climb the stairs, hits you with the force of a knockout punch. But what you remember are his eyes, sparkling with the spirit of a man whose soul cannot, and will not be crushed.
Jones is the one who anchors the film. It is a richly layered performance that’s bursting with strength and spirit on the surface. Jane’s interminable determination to stand by Stephen through thick and thin effortlessly warms your heart. Yet as that warmth begins to dwindle, the quality of Jones’ performance only escalates. The sight of Jane sitting alone trapped in the kitchen while her children and husband play around her, or of the guilt etched on to her face as she realises she may be developing feelings for another man, are two of the single most haunting images you’re likely to see on the screen this year and an illustrious illustration of Jones’ astonishing range.
Propelled by the power of his two leads, and the fine support of David Thewlis and Charlie Cox amongst others, Marsh harnesses all of his creative integrity to produce a biopic worthy of Stephen and Jane’s emotional and extraordinary journey. DP Benoît Delhomme draws on pervious work such as Miss Julie to create a handsome period aesthetic that’s imbued with warm, romantic colours. It perfectly complements McCarten’s well-balanced script, which succeeds in maintaining a surprisingly wry and witty nature that acts as equilibrium to the narrative’s darker dynamics.
Many will, of course, still dismiss The Theory Of Everything as Oscar-bait. But, to do so diminishes the work of Marsh, his cast and crew. Unlike last year’s Award’s Season biopic Mandela, this is a film with a grander purpose. With careful sensitivity and stunning central performances, it deconstructs a relationship that’s been put under the greatest of strains. The reason it’s garnering awards attention is because it’s a film that shines bright, like a star twinkling in the sky.