On the Silver Screen – The Theory of Everything
The James Marsh directed The Theory of Everything chronicles brilliant scientist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) from his time at university up to roughly the present day.
Instead of focusing on Stephen Hawking the scientist this film tells the story of Stephen Hawking the man. The script touches on his life as a scientist but for the most part the center of the film is his relationship with his first wife Jane (Felicity Jones).
Redmayne’s performance is nothing short of incredible. He plays Hawking at many different parts of his life from his days as a student through his declining health and increasing fame. Every part of his performance is nailed and once the motor neuron disease gets worse he becomes unrecognisable. I can only imagine how difficult this must have been to do given the sensitivity of the subject. I understand that Stephen Hawking himself gives this film his blessing but even at that it must have been a difficult performance. No attempt is made to sugarcoat the severity of Hawking’s condition or how difficult it is for the people around him to support his constant needs. It’s a very dignified and honest portrayal of a brutal and debilitating condition.
The different aspects of Hawking’s personality come across really well here. From what I can tell Hawking is a pretty funny guy who is no stranger to making fun of himself. See his appearances on The Simpsons or The Big Bang Theory for examples of this. His appearance on The Simpsons is particularly brilliant. This film gives us plenty of his sense of humour and his strength of character. Redmayne portrays him as a man who stubbornly fights his disease and does everything he can to not let it beat him.
Felicity Jones gives a similarly great performance as Hawking’s wife Jane. At first she seems like such a timid young woman who is intimidated by Hawking’s personality and intellect but as the film progresses she proves to be a very strong willed and determined individual. Her devotion to her deteriorating husband is inspiring to watch and the constant chipping away at her resolve is heartbreaking to watch. In many ways the film is her story as she struggles to find her own identity in the world of Stephen Hawking.
Redmayne and Jones have really genuine chemistry together which makes their interactions feel warm and natural throughout the film. Some of the dialogue feels a little clunky at times but it’s elevated by the believable performances of this talented cast.
This film suffers many of the same problems plagued by other biopics. The span of time covered is simply to large to be effectively explored by a 2 hour film. Unfortunately this means that there are lots of scenes that only work on a superficial level. They tell the basic story and then they move on. Many of these scenes had moments and conversations that could have been given a lot more depth. For example Hawking’s marriage to Jane and the birth of their first child is dealt with in a montage and their other 2 children enter the story with little to no warning. There’s no real sense of a life being built or a familial relationship existing.
Similarly Hawking’s growing relationship with his nurse Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake) happens entirely off screen and loses any impact as a result. She is a character that we barely see prior to this so we don’t see any adequate reason as to why Hawking would leave his wife for her. It’s almost as if Anthony McCarten’s screenplay is going out of its way to be polite and is frightened of portraying anything about Hawking in anything resembling a negative light.
There are a couple of recurring themes that don’t really seem to go anywhere as well. Throughout the film Stephen and Jane have a long standing debate about religion that never really sees any resolution. Ultimately it feels superfluous given how it’s handled. The titular “Theory of Everything” is another thing that doesn’t have any measure of resolution. I understand that Hawking hasn’t yet discovered this but as a theme there should be some kind of closure on it.
A strong film depicting the life of one of history’s most famous scientists. Eddie Redmayne delivers a stunning performance as Stephen Hawking and is backed up wonderfully by Felicity Jones as his wife Jane. The two actors have really natural chemistry that makes their interactions feel real.
At times the dialogue feels a little clunky and the film rushes through some of the major points in Hawking’s life to meet the 2 hour running time. There’s also a sense that the script is going out of its way to be polite and not present any of Hawking’s life in a negative light.
Two major themes come and go without any major resolution. Stephen and Jane’s religious debate is left unresolved as well as the “Theory of Everything” that Hawking is striving for lacking in any kind of resolution.
In general the film is peppered with many strongly performed moving moments that really give the film lots of emotional depth which helps to elevate the patchy script to heights it wouldn’t otherwise reach.