Film Review: The Theory of Everything

Monday 19 January 2015 by

The Theory of Everything, Film, Stephen Hawking

The Theory of Everything (2015)

Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Charlie Cox, Harry Lloyd, David Thewlis, Simon McBurney

Director: James Marsh, running time 123 minutes (12A)

This year saw the release of two recent-history biopics, both with an upper middle class Englishness period drama feeling about them and both keenly anticipated. This film and The Imitation Game firmly sit in the Oscars category for Best Actor for popular (and talented) British actors in the lead role. Eddie Redmayne impresses as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, he really impresses. This is probably his best film to date, and very definitely his best role. But the performance of the film belongs to Felicity Jones as Jane Wilde Hawking, Stephen’s wife of thirty years. She’s nuanced, she’s sympathetic and she’s ever so restrained. That Jones delivers a performance of this magnitude seems fitting as the source material for this biopic is Jane’s own memoir, the edited and updated second version, Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen. It’s easy to get swept up in Stephen Hawking – after all we know far more about the man than we do about Jane – but this is really Jane’s story, Jane’s film.

Two academics bump into each other at a party in Cambridge and the rest, as they say, is history. The early deterioration of Stephen Hawking due to the onset of Motor Neurone disease takes place almost too quickly here, it feels very rushed and the Hawking’s are married almost before we know it. Life in Cambridge, the rigours and hardships of academia and a new marriage are almost glossed over. Jane’s accomplishments somewhat marginalised and it all feels a little bit too grin and bear it all the time. It must have been hard, very hard and there are moments of the film where we can see this, feel it, but they are fleeting. Of course, life progresses and this story gets told. Decently. No dramatic flourishes here, it stays away from any real genre busting, a gentle well-told drama. We see more of the daily frustrations of Jane than we do of Stephen, the undeniable hardness of caring for three children and a husband take their toll and Jane becomes more emotionally fragile and liable to actions she wouldn’t ordinarily commit as the film progresses. But there’s no real conflict between them, their debates about God are too clean and too non-confrontational – I can’t think that two academics could remain this unheated in a debate about the big issues of theology like this. The film is surprisingly funny, it has a terrific supporting cast (Charlie Cox is particularly noticeable in what could have been an easy role to get wrong, the second husband, and Harry Lloyd is effective as the fictional friend who keeps us from thinking Stephen is too perfect). At the heart of it the film is a great subject matter the intimate life of one of the most famous and popular science figures of the day. I can’t fault it but it plays like a Sunday TV drama lifted for the screen with two excellent lead actors. It’s tasteful, emotionally catching and ever so slightly boring. It’s the first Big Release film for the director James Marsh and hopefully he will go on to many more projects if he can coax more performances like these ones from his actors.

It didn’t dig hard enough nor did it answer any of the big questions we really want to know about. However, it’s opening the door for the biopics of people still alive today, that Jane Wilde and Stephen Hawking were there on set at points of filming must lead to a very different process to the film than the average biopic. I’d like to see Felicity Jones win the Oscar for this one I really would. A truly excellent performance in a capable film.

Rating, Review, Three

 

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