Theory of Everything Review
We had high expectations for James Marsh’s biopic of genius physicist Stephen Hawking. The British director is highly regarded for his documentaries which take an intimate look at remarkable achievements – most notably Project Nim and the awards-showered Man on Wire. It would seem a natural fit then to take the leap to screenplay with an extraordinary tale of hardship, love and success of a global magnitude. The Theory of Everything certainly delivers struggle and warmth but Marsh serves up a conventional relationship drama that fails to deal with the crux of Hawking’s work on time and space.
The Theory of Everything plays it soft and shirks the responsibility of unravelling the complexity of Hawking’s assertions. What could be harder than explaining the theory of everything, I hear you ask? A fair question but the problem is the film barely scratches the surface and is in danger of forgetting it’s audience.
The Stephen Hawking story is a genuinely fascinating marital drama and Marsh delivers the struggle of an ordinary marriage in quite extraordinary circumstances with a heartbreaking emotional punch. Maybe it’s churlish of us to suggest so but the film’s biggest miscue is that Stephen Hawking is much more than that and when leaving the audienceswould be forgiven for not knowing just why he is so famous.
If you’re able to forgive The Theory of Everything for it’s plot misgivings, it is a poignant love story that delivers hope, a scattering of inspiration and some truly memorable performances. Eddie Redmayne (Les Miserables) is visceral as Professor Hawking and his journey through the emotional and physical pain of motor neurone disease is judged immaculately. A high-functioning genius with a dose of wit could easily come across as two dimensional, especially when he has very limited physical expression, but Redmayne is nuanced and impossible to keep your eyes off. Between the two of them, Redmayne and Marsh manage to never understate his peril but never overstate it into cliche. The Oscar talk is fully justified.
Felicity Jones also shines as Hawking’s wife Jane. Marsh’s decision to portray Jane as the tired housewife too-busy-vacuuming-to-study maybe misguided and a little embellished but Jones gives strength and anguish in a single glance. Her chemistry with Redmayne is undeniable and the humour is tasteful and does well not to stray into twee.
Given that Anthony McCarten’s screenplay was based on the memoirs of Jane Wilde Hawking, it’s probably no surprise that the introduction of Elaine Mason (Hawking’s carer and future second wife), played by Maxine Peake, feels awkward and isn’t resolved or confronted in any manner. Jane’s religious beliefs are also given more prominence than is possibly necessary and the film can sometimes put too much emphasis on the conflict between science and religion.
For all it’s faults, The Theory of Everything is generally directed well, Benoit Delhomme’s cinematography is excellent and Johann Johansson’s score is brilliantly reminiscent of some of Philip Glass’ great work. Plaudits will rightfully go to Redmayne and Jones but when you’re promised everything, you’d like a little more than just something.
Theory of Everything Review: