Friday 2 to Thursday 15 January
& Friday 16 to Thursday 22 January (not Sat 17 or Weds 21)
& Friday 23 to Thursday 29 January (not Sat 24 or Sun 25)
(12A) 2hrs 3mins
USA 2014 Dir. James Marsh
Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, Emily Watson, Simon McBurney, David Thewlis
Starring Eddie Redmayne (Les Misérables) in an acclaimed performance, this is the extraordinary story of renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. Professor Hawking knows more than most of us - about the universe, yes, but also how to live a full life in it. A healthy, active young man, and deeply in love with fellow Cambridge student Jane (Felicity Jones), he received an life-shattering diagnosis at the age of 21. As Hawking s ideas expand to encompass all of time and space, his physical abilities contract. To watch how he and Jane contend with both limits and limitlessness is to witness a remarkable marriage, and
immerses himself not just in the detail of Hawking s changing body, but
also in the character of a man fighting that change.
Director James Marsh has shown a knack for telling remarkable true tales in documentaries like Man on Wire, and here he crafts The Theory of Everything as, above all, a love story.
"Here is an unexpectedly charming, moving and powerfully acted film about the enigma that is Stephen W Hawking, the Cambridge theoretical physicist who survived a form of motor neurone disease (MND) that was expected to kill him by his mid-20s, and became a pioneer of the study of black holes, a bestselling author and the world’s most famous wheelchair user.
By working from a memoir of his flawed marriage written by his ex-wife, Jane Hawking (the second and more temperate of the two books she has written), screenwriter Anthony McCarten and director James Marsh have swerved a lot, if not quite all, of the cliches about all-too-human scientist-geniuses and they have created a startlingly grown-up portrait of a difficult, troubled relationship.
As it happens, this film does in a number of ways resemble The Imitiation Game – the recent movie about wartime codebreaker Alan Turing – and that film’s star, Benedict Cumberbatch, has himself played Hawking in a 2004 TV movie. But The Theory of Everything is trying for something more real, true and intimate in its study of the compromises made within a marriage with unique pressures.
Eddie Redmayne portrays Hawking with simplicity, candour and unforced intelligence; he shines a light on the miracle of his survival into middle age, and subtly suggests how this was partly due to a revitalising, reticent uxorious passion in response to his wife’s devotion to him. Yet it also hints at how the discoveries themselves kept him alive, perhaps even suggesting that he physically imploded into a dark star of pure cerebral force, while his fragile frame had to bear a daunting emotional burden.
Redmayne’s performance also shows how the famous electronic voice box liberated him – and how that world-famous synthetic voice, with its sing-song robotic tone, enigmatically conceals what he is really thinking and feeling.
The basic story has been recounted in that Cumberbatch TV film and in a recent documentary by Stephen Finnegan, Hawking. The brilliant young mathematician at St John’s College, Cambridge, in the early 1960s is starting to make a name for himself, but also shows a worrying tendency to clumsiness – stumbling, knocking over mugs of tea, dropping pencils – which initially could be seen as just scatterbrained brilliance. But a serious fall brings a grim diagnosis: Hawking has MND and two years to live. His girlfriend, Jane, played with fierce, pinched determination and English-rose beauty by Felicity Jones, refuses to give up on him. They marry and have children; the two-year mortality deadline comes and goes, Hawking’s reputation continues to climb and it’s clear that something special is happening.
The scenes and stock characters look pretty familiar at first, with brainy chaps in sports jackets frowning over their equations in the lab, drinking pints of foamy bitter in the pub and chatting up girls – just as we saw in The Imitation Game or indeed Life Story, the 1987 BBC TV movie about James Watson and Francis Crick in 1950s Cambridge discovering the structure of DNA. (This movie, oddly, seems to make everyone in those 1960s pubs stick to 21st-century no-smoking rules.)
Where the film departs from the norm is in showing how Stephen and Jane effectively converted their marriage into something like an open relationship. Frustrated and depressed, Jane forms an intense, ambiguous friendship with a widower, the church choirmaster, Jonathan Hellyer Jones, played by Charlie Cox, who joins them on family holidays, helping Stephen as if he were one of the children. It is a situation in which Stephen is complaisant. Or is he? Soon he himself forms a similar, quasi-platonic relationship with his nurse, Elaine Mason, played by Maxine Peake, which is as intimate, or more intimate, than the dynamics of the conjugal bed. She does not hesitate to assert a kind of marital primacy over Stephen. Is Stephen’s eventual choice governed by emotional pain? It is another mystery.
For a while, this is effectively a four-way marriage: a very un-Hollywood situation. Perhaps things were harsher and less dignified in real life than they appear on screen. But Redmayne, Jones, Cox and Peake portray the principals and their emotional web with delicacy. The title refers to Hawking’s quest for an all-encompassing theory of the physical universe, but the pathos of the film is that in ordinary life, not everything can be made to fit and make sense. Compromises must be made; people must muddle through. It is a gentle, tender story of lovers who found friendship during and after their marriage."