The Theory of Everything review (Wired UK)


Universal Pictures


The life of Professor Stephen Hawking
has been the subject of multiple documentaries across the last few
decades, but never before has Britain’s most revered cosmologist
been portrayed by an actor on film. In The Theory of
Everything
, an adaptation of the book written by Hawking’s
first wife Jane, Eddie Redmayne takes on the daunting task of
playing Hawking in this incredibly personal account of his
life.

As the film begins, Hawking is embarking on his doctorate at
Cambridge University. He is at this point just another student,
displaying all the kind of traits you might expect from a young man
in possession of first-class degree and a quick wit. He is playful,
disorganised, cheeky and quite shockingly lazy. A young person who,
like most young people, is still unsure in which direction he wants
to point his energy and talent.


Universal Pictures


This opening sequence can have posed little challenge to
Redmayne, a former Cambridge student himself. But then it is the
only opportunity for him to be the Hawking who rattles through
flirtations, equations and parties at full pelt before his body
begins to give way. As the motor neurone disease sets in, Hawking
is just getting into his stride romantically and academically.
Redmayne plays him as a man too caught up in life to be distracted
by odd physical weaknesses, but this comes to a devastating halt
when he clatters to the floor of his college quad.

Redmayne has clearly studied the intricacies of Hawking’s
decline in intimate detail in order to give a heartrendingly
authentic physical performance. It is a shame that beyond the point
at which Hawking is diagnosed, the script does not provide more
insight into his ongoing feelings about his disease, but then
Hawking in real life has been famously quiet on the matter.

The character of Jane, played intelligently by Felicity Jones,
fares a little better in terms of material, even if there are
moments at which the script could cut a little deeper. Everything
you need to know about Jane can be summarised in the scene when she
sits down with Hawking’s father who wants to dissuade her from
continuing their relationship after Hawking’s motor neurone disease
has been diagnosed.

“I know I might not seem like a very strong kind of person,”
says Jones, with her lip wobbling slightly, but a steely
determination in her eyes. She goes on to put Frank Hawking firmly
in his place — she and Stephen will marry, she insists. The fire
that burns beyond her good and gentle English rose facade is
central to Jones’ portrayal of Jane throughout the film. It keeps
her centred in moments of evident loneliness, frustration and
heartache.

Of course the film itself is based on Jane’s memoir, so the fact
that her characterisation is generally favourable is not much of a
shock. But then Hawking himself has said of the film that he was
surprised by how honest the portrayal of their relationship is.


Universal Pictures


The minor scandals of Jane’s relationship with family-friend
Jonathan and Hawking’s relationship with his nurse Elaine are
handled subtly by the script and actors. The warts-and-all version
is no secret, but in Anthony McCarten’s screenplay the focus
remains for the most part on the direct relationship between
Hawking and Jane. Plenty of what splits the couple apart is
implied, which is a mite frustrating — particularly in terms of
Hawking feelings for Elaine. That said, Maxine Peake puts in a
brilliant and slightly sinister performance as the coquettish
Elaine. Similarly, Charlie Cox is entirely endearing as the
moon-eyed and earnest Jonathan.

While it’s obviously impossible to completely separate Hawking’s
character from his science, science in The Theory of
Everything
is undoubtedly sidelined. When the scientific
aspects of the story do arise, they are handled smartly. Whether
explained through a storm of cream in a coffee cup, or Jane’s words
to layman Jonathan over dinner, or in a moment under the stars at
the May Ball, the physics remains accurate, accessible and
remarkably unpatronising.

Ultimately though, this is a story less about the lifelong
scientific endeavour of one person than the lifelong emotional
endeavour of two.

For the most part, the sadness of Hawking’s physical decline and
the cleverness of his humour keep The Theory of Everything in a
state of equilibrium. Hawking’s sense of humour is one of the
surprises and joys of the film, and is played out through glib
remarks and Redmayne’s twinkling eyes, twitching eyebrows and
facial muscles.

Moments of truly intense emotion are limited — and as such when
Hawking does leave Jane for Elaine and tears drip from the corners
of Redmayne’s eyes down his paralysed face, the full force of their
mutual heartbreak is deeply affecting. Another more cheerful but
equally poignant moment at the end of the film cuts a subtler blow
that may leaving audiences feeling unexpectedly out of puff.

In all, The Theory of Everything is an adaptation
carried by the strength of several deeply moving performances and
some remarkable source material. It is a cleverly told story that
not many know about a man that everyone knows. That is surely set
to change.

The Theory of Everything will be in cinemas across the UK
from 1 January 2015.

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12 December 2014 | 6:14 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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