If the films face challenges too,

by litepink on November 3, 2015

With the release of the Bobby Fischer film, Pawn Sacrifice, the Alan Turing film, The Imitation Game, and the Stephen Hawking film, The Theory of Everything, it a bumper year for a certain type of earnest, pedigreed prestige biopic. All three of these men are intellectual giants of the 20th century; all had serious physical and psychological hurdles to overcome.



If the films face challenges too, it how to wrestle these men stories away from hackneyed templates how to extricate themes, generate emotions and explain concepts we don feel we had drummed into us dozens of times before.



Professor Hawking, naturally, faced the most extreme disadvantage of the three the onset of motor neurone disease in his early twenties. Which shouldn automatically mean his film is the most affecting. But it is.



Without really straying for a moment outside the rigid formulae for this genre, The Theory of Everything just handles its task the best, harmonises its story the best. It a respectable and moving effort.



The love story between Hawking and his first wife Jane (Felicity Jones) is front and centre they meet barely two minutes into James Marsh film, and the sweep of their relationship gives it grip and unity. He a hunched, jaunty doctoral student in 1963 Cambridge; she a friendly soul preparing for a PhD in medieval poetry. They dally and flirt. Then, already wobbly on his feet, he has a terrible accident, falling crumpled and prone onto Trinity Hall flagstones.



Diagnosed with the disease after this collapse, Hawking was initially given two years to live. But for the next 30, until their divorce in 1995, Jane devoted the best part of her life to looking after him and their three children.



Anthony McCarten script, adapted from Jane memoir, Travelling to Infinity, is a thing of undeniable restraint and tact and tastefulness, but it does leave rather a lot of questions unraised, let alone answered. Did they never fight? Was sex at all difficult? What was his work ethic like?



Domesticity chez Hawking is remarkably even keeled here, given the taxing burden of care his worsening condition placed on Jane. Sure, the couple have differences of opinion about God and the universe and such, but even these are expressed in a polite spirit of wholly academic debate. It all risks being a little gauzy and sanitised a tad undramatic.



We wouldn want to distort Hawking personality, which is certainly on the sunny side. But this film is oddly lacking in the sense of inner torment a brilliant mind might surely, must feel at bodily betrayal. It retreats away from Stephen point of view almost from the moment he heaves his bent frame into a wheelchair. This is roughly when Jane meets Jonathan (Charlie Cox), a young widowed choirmaster who gradually platonically, at first became a part of their home.



Luckily, the complexities of this three cornered relationship give Marsh his strongest material, a lot of which is down to impeccable support from the reliably sympathetic Cox. Jones, who contributed her own best work to The Invisible Woman last year, does a vivid job with Jane love vs responsibility dilemma, but sometimes feels stuck in the limiting role of a nice, decent, God fearing woman trying her best, rather than a character with her own fully imagined inner life.



It certainly Redmayne film, and his performance is everything you could ask for: completely convincing in its physicality, credible in its pain, and warmly but not crassly optimistic in its nearly constant good temper. The most harrowing scene is almost wordless, as Hawking inches his agonised way up the stairs to where his baby son Robert looks on from above, dumbly witnessing his own father regression to sub toddler mobility.



Redmayne is so good at this mute distress you temporarily forget he acting; it happens again at the end. His tears when the couple throw in the towel recognise half a lifetime of love, and mourn it: the scene hits home. Right through, redeeming the film visuals from TV movie obviousness, Benot Delhomme cinematography is a creative boon, giving us the ultraviolet glow of a Cambridge May ball, the cosmic swirl of cream in a coffee cup.



That shot is a quotation from the Godard film, Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967), where the image filled the screen, invoking the milky way and the far beyond. In its potted appraisal of Hawking cosmology, The Theory of Everything bends over backwards to speak to the layman, and relies on plenty of second hand inspiration. But it borrows from the right sources, this Theory. And that something.

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