The Theory Of Everything (Cert 12)
1 Disc (Distributor: Universal) Running Time: 123 minutes approx.
At the 2015 Oscars something quite rare occurred: two films vying for the top honours in the major categories were British; and they were both biopics celebrating two very different but equally brilliant British men. One was The Imitation Game about the World War II code breaker Alan Turing, the other was The Theory Of Everything about the wheelchair bound genius Professor Stephen Hawking.
Actually it is not ALL about him at all; based on the memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen this is also the story of Hawking’s first wife Jane (née Wilde) and everything she gave to her husband in the face of life threatening adversity. Adapted by Anthony McCarten, the script has the onus of being respectful to its subjects in lieu of the fact that they are both living, which it achieves if to the detriment of a dramatic narrative.
The story begins with the couple’s first meeting at Cambridge University in 1963, where Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is studying physics and Jane (Felicity Jones) literature. After attending a lecture about black holes with his tutor Dr. Dennis Sciama (David Thewlis), Hawking decides to make the notion that black holes were part of the creation of the universe as the subject of his thesis.
During this period Hawking’s muscles started to tighten up leading to a fall from which a diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease was made. Hawking was just 21 years old and was told he wouldn’t longer than two years. Jane refuses the chance to leave and the pair marry and soon have their first of three children. Despite the disease now affecting his speech and mobility Hawking finishes his thesis and is awarded the title “doctor” going on to astound many with his work.
While this is the success story of Hawking, the other side – the untold side if you will – is about Jane’s tireless and selfless devotion to her husband, as a wife, mother, nurse and one woman intellectual support group. She was 21 when they wed and the amount of sacrifices she made for Hawking over the years is immeasurable and rather miraculous when one considers the technology and medical advances available today to aid those with the same disease.
Jane suffers – for wanting a better term – largely in silence but doesn’t resent Hawking any of it. Conversely she is not a wallflower who allows anyone to walk over her, possessing an incredible resolve. But everyone has their limit and Jane is granted help from a widowed choir teacher Jonathan (Charlie Cox) whom she first employs as their son’s piano teacher. The inevitable romance blossoms but both keep it subdued out of respect for Hawking and the marriage.
As much as it may sound like it, this is not the story of someone begging for sympathy or reward for what she did, just someone with an interesting story to tell. It is a tale of hope and overcoming the odds and while this may relate more to Hawking than Jane, by never giving up she was rewarded with three children and plenty of self esteem. The fact she and Hawking remain close friends, after both have remarried (Jane to Jonathan), is a testament to the strength of the bond they formed.
It is also rather indicative of the overall tone of this film – it is all very polite and very English. In one scene when things start to get tough, Jane’s mother (Emily Watson) suggests Jane joins the church choir – Jane’s response? “That is quite possibly the most English thing anyone has ever said”, which sums up the whole film. This is not a criticism but an observation, and is something that gives this its unique character, in spite of following the conventional storytelling formula of the biopic genre.
While the story is awe inspiring and a heartfelt tribute to a certified genius and his resilient wife this is a film that is all about the performances. Eddie Redmayne was heavily rewarded – including an Oscar – for his embodiment of Hawking; yes embodiment as this was beyond acting. The months of intense studying of Hawking’s movements and quirks both pre and post diagnosis are there on the screen in Redmayne’s startlingly believable essaying of Hawking’s gradual physical regression.
From simple gaits in his walk to the inability to hold a pen to the now recognisable lopsided grin on his face, the transformation is nuanced and astutely recorded, yet Hawking accepts his fate with good humour and grace. Redmayne seems to personally undergo every stage of debilitation yet the personality of his subject remains very much a focal point. A worthy and no brainer Oscar win if there ever was one.
As dominant as Redmayne’s turn was, Felicity Jones is not to be underestimated or unappreciated as Jane. Another role which requires attention to detail and subtle interpretation, Jones also takes her character on a journey, albeit an emotional one in which her grace under pressure resolve is pushed to the limit. Aesthetically this is measured by her physical appearance as the times and fashion dictate, each period seemingly bringing with a sign of wear and fatigue to her once bubbly aura.
Director James Marsh is mostly known for documentaries which reveals itself in certain flashback or transitional scenes, but has clearly given him the discipline to stick to telling a story and not trying to make an overwrought and overly sentimental drama. Marsh keeps the tone respectful and keenly observant of being truthful to the subject at hand, a necessity for one so instantly recognisable.
The Theory Of Everything rarely puts a foot wrong but is overshadowed by the sheer might of the lead performances which deserve every plaudit they have earned. Perhaps it suffers from a little dryness in terms of being a dynamic biopic but it compensates with its warmth and ease of engagement for its two hour run time.
English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Spanish, French, German, Italian DTS Surround 5.1
English SDH, Arabic, Spanish, Danish, Dutch Finnish, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Swedish Subtitles
Becoming The Hawkins
Audio Commentary with Director James Marsh
Rating – ****
Man In Black