Adapted from the autobiography by Jane Wilde Hawking, ‘Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Steven’, The Theory of Everything deals with Jane’s relationship with her ex-husband, world-renowned astrophysicist Steven Hawking, his diagnosis of motor neuron disease and how, through her decades of support while raising their family, Steven would go on to write ‘A Brief History of Time’.
The story commences at Cambridge with the young, active 21-year-old Hawking (Golden Globe winner for the role Eddie Redmayne, Les Miserables) meeting and falling in love with fellow student Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones, The Invisible Woman). He shows the promise of possessing one of the world’s greatest minds, and despite the life-changing news he perseveres with his most ambitious scientific work, under the assumption that his remaining time on earth is limited. But, with the help of Jane, Steven defies the odds and achieves more than anyone could have imagined.
This is an extraordinary story, there is no doubt about it, and for the most part it is handled very well in this film. There are some incredibly moving moments and this is often exclusively down to the astounding performances from Redmayne and Jones. Redmayne’s embodiment of Hawking is incredible, and it is apparent immediately. His diction, mannerisms and the physicality of his body language is feat of acting. As Hawking’s body begins to deteriorate – he is confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak – Redmayne must rely on expression. He is completely convincing. Equally mesmerising is the lovely Jones, who continues to be flawless. She possesses an uncanny ability of conveying so many different emotions through her face.
While the screenplay makes some tenuous connections between the lives of Steven and Jane, is sometime clumsy with leaps in time, and doesn’t really explore Steven’s ideas in as much depth as one would expect, it is clear that a competent directed is at the helm. Veteran filmmaker James Marsh has an impressive resume, including Man on Wire, Project Nim and Shadow Dancer. The screenplay achieves a passable balance between Steven and Jane transforming it into an affecting relationship drama and, above expectations, beyond the standard biopic.
The Theory of Everything has considerable scope and what elevates it is the shared stories of Steven and Jane. This is not only Steven’s struggle with his disease and his determination to finish his PhD and question his hypotheses, but also Jane’s devoted commitment to Steven and her growing anxieties as she is unable to care for him (and her children) alone. The film is forcibly dramatic at times (incorporating the ‘genius-revelation’ tropes, and breaking down Steven’s complex philosophies into too-digestible means) and feels a tad overlong as it strays in the second half as Jane’s friendship with Jonathan Jones (Charlie Cox) becomes a core element.
It is also technically interesting in ways that a film like The Imitation Game is not. I hate to make that film a punching bag, but it is 2014’s representative of the long-standing precedent for bland biopics. Thankfully, The Theory of Everything was more engaging and cared more about its subject than that film. Accompanied by Johann Johannsson (Prisoners) lovely score, Marsh and his cinematographer Benoit Delhomme utilise filters and an array of effective colour-grading to visually accentuate many sequences to an impressively cinematic quality. This is a handsomely produced film that has understandably attracted Oscar voters. This is a more than serviceable cinematic adaptation of the Hawking family and I quite enjoyed it.
Director: James Marsh
Writer: Anthony McCarten
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, David Thewlis, Charlie Cox, Emily Watson
Runtime: 123 minutes
Release date: Australia: Now Showing