For a film that could so easily have fallen into a black hole of mawkishness and reverence for its wheelchair-bound genius, The Theory Of Everything is instead a superbly acted study of two people’s remarkable journey through a complicated marriage.
Had this not been based on Jane Wilde Hawking’s memoir Travelling To Infinity: My Life With Stephen, you suspect James Marsh’s film would have had a very different – and possibly inferior – slant.
However, Anthony McCarten’s screenplay is careful to remind us there are always two people in a marriage, even if one of them is the world-renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.
While’s Hawking’s stratospheric trajectory from Cambridge University cosmology student to the most famous scientist on the planet is undoubtedly a major focus of the film, The Theory Of Everything is at its heart a story of how two people struggle to hold a marriage together in the face of extraordinary pressures, both physical and emotional.
The film follows the couple (played by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones) from their first encounter at university, through Stephen’s diagnosis with motor neurone disease and their decision to marry and have children in spite of the two-year life expectancy he was initially given. As the two-year mark comes and goes (curiously ignored) and Stephen’s career ascends, the film also focuses on the growing strain put on Jane as she tries to balance her own life against that of raising kids and looking after an increasingly debilitated husband.
Things take a twist with the introduction of Jonathan Jones (Charlie Cox), a widower whom Jane meets when trying out for the church choir. Initially welcomed into the fold as someone who is there to give the frustrated and unhappy Jane much-needed help, the dynamic shifts as Jane and Jonathan become closer while Stephen looks on, undoubtedly aware of their growing attraction but choosing not to say anything.
It’s here where the film skilfully avoids soap opera over-drama and weaves a complex tapestry wherein Jane is torn between the love she has for her husband and the feelings she shares with the quiet and principled Jonathan. During a scene when Jane, Jonathan and her kids are staying at a campsite on their way to see Stephen in France, it cuts between Stephen’s failing health at a classical music concert and Jane going to Jonathan’s tent. The film chooses to remain ambiguous as to whether anything happens between them, but reality bites when she learns of the extent of Stephen’s sudden downturn.
Time is an integral player in the story, be it the two-year life expectancy given to Stephen upon being diagnosed with MND or the decision by Stephen to “wind back the clock” and prove what happened following the Big Bang. The momentum of time, both forwards and backwards, is represented by a clock-like circular motion of the camera that Marsh returns to throughout the film, from milk being poured into a cup of tea, to a spiral staircase or the circular patterns of dancers during the Cambridge University ball.
Spanning such a long period (roughly covering the early 1960s to the publication of Hawking’s celebrated book A Brief History Of Time in 1988 and the arrival of his assistant Elaine, played by Maxine Peake, in the early 1990s), it’s inevitable that certain sections of the story are glossed over, but it’s nevertheless a pity that the final act feels so rushed and the fate of characters seen extensively early on, such as Stephen’s parents and his (fictional) roommate and friend Brian (Harry Lloyd), aren’t resolved.
One thing that isn’t uncertain is the quality of the central performances. Jones gives a career-best turn in a role that, if overplayed, could have been maudlin; however, the actress imbues Jane with a steely determination that belies her soft English rose exterior.
The chemistry she shares with the Redmayne is captivating. For his part, Redmayne is extraordinary, disappearing into the role so completely you soon forget you’re watching a performance at all, much like Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot.
The Theory Of Everything may be too safe at times, but its astronomical cast gives it the big bang it needs to live up to the true story.
“However, Anthony McCarten’s screenplay is careful to remind us there are always two people in a marriage, even if one of them is the world-renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.” – Goes to the heart of the film. Very true 🙂
Thank you, appreciate that 🙂
Your review is very nice. The performances are strong and it avoids maudlin, sugary tactics. I think the biggest fault is the “safeness” factor your mentioned. It’s a very good film, but not great. Nice cinematic touch of the tea and stairs swirling to compliment Hawking’s theory.
Much obliged Cindy, as always. Had a few more risks been taken this could have been very special. Instead, it was a B- movie.
The performances definitely drive this picture. Expect to hear some acting nominations come Oscar time.
Yeah, after the Golden Globe Redmayne is in the driving seat isn’t he?
I don’t know. He will have to go up against Keaton come Oscar time. That will be fun to watch.
I need to see Birdman!
Jones and Redmayne were fine here, it’s just that there wasn’t much of a script for them to work with. Just ordinary and by-the-numbers, really. Good review.
Thanks Dan. The script, like the film itself, is too safe.
I like that they took the approach of showing the little-known love story of Stephen Hawking. I’m definitely keen on this one just for the performances alone.
The performances are something else aren’t they? Without these great turns, the film could have been a bit of a flop.
Redmayne just won last night at the Globes, so he might be a serious contender for Oscar too. I’m REALLY hoping Keaton would get it though, I think it’ll come down to these two in Best Actor category.
I haven’t seen Birdman yet so can’t make the comparison. Can’t wait to see it!
Reassuring to hear that this doesn’t trip over mawkishness. For me The Imitation Game stumbled a tad in that area, despite possessing a potentially captivating story and some truly excellent performances. Great work mate!
Cheers Adam. I must say, that I’m really pleased to see a trickle of interesting movies about science appearing. And ones featuring real talents like Cumberbatch and Redmayne.
I really want to see this one…the more I read about it, the more I’m sure that I’ll at least admire it!
Do it! Would be interested to hear your thoughts mate.
Awesome review of an astounding film. The memorable performances really moved me.
Ah, thanks Daniel. Can’t say as I’m surprised that Redmayne won the Globe. Let’s see what happens at the Oscars.
Great review, my man. I can’t honestly say that this has grabbed my interest but I’m intrigued by how Redmayne does. He looks superb in this and a possible Oscar winner by the looks of it. The oscars love this shit, man. 😉
They do don’t they? Redmayne is great though, that can’t be denied. If he was to win you wouldn’t get any complaints from me.
Still haven’t got round to seeing this but I really want to see how Redmayne gets on. It’s a heck of a role to take on.
He’s absolutely great. Better than the movie if truth be told.
I wish I had felt that ‘bang’ that supposedly gave this story its dramatic heft. Surprisingly ‘The Theory of Everything’ left me feeling nothing at all. I wasn’t cold, I wasn’t jubilant. I was just very ‘meh’ on this. A shame, when this was so well-performed. Won’t ever be one to deny that Redmayne may very well deserve taking center stage for Best Actor at the Oscar’s. . . .even over Jake Gyllenhaal and David Oyelowo. He was absolutely PHENOMENAL here, right down to the specific way he tweaked his body. I’m also on board with Felicity Jones’ sensational performance that didn’t allow her to become a soap-drama second-rate performance.
I can see where you’re coming from Tom. The central performances are better than the sum of the film’s parts if truth be told.
I’m glad you liked this as much as me. I’m surprised that there’s been a lot of non-plussed reactions out there to the film as a whole but I thought it was intelligent, visually-interesting and moving, even before getting on to the performances. Good read mate.
I can’t understand why people bemoan the lack of science in the film. It’s not about that, it’s about their relationship.
Really enjoyed this movie and it was all because of Redmayne’s performance. He’s deserving of the awards he’s getting and is bound to get.
Let’s see. I imagine you’re right. The performances really elevate the picture.
Excellent review, been hearing amazing things about this movie and the two central performances.
Thank you my friend. Well worth a watch, if only for the performances.
Lovely review. This was such a pleasant surprise for me, wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did. Both leads were excellent! I think I preferred Felicity Jones though, her “I did my best” scene ruined me haha.
Ah, thanks! Yeah, Jones managed to escape the ‘Stephen Hawking’s wife’ straightjacket and deliver a tur as good as Redmayne’s.