A film driven by the extraordinarily nuanced performances of its two leads, but slightly lacking in its epic retelling of the Genius Professor's story.
The Theory of Everything is James Marsh’s spectacular biopic, focusing in on the lives of renowned theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his first wife, Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). Based on Wilde’s memoir, ‘Travelling to Infinity: My life with Stephen’, the film offers a touching insight into the struggles the young couple faced; the most infamous and prevalent of all, being Hawking’s tragically endless decline in health after he was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease at the age of 21. As well as depicting Hawking’s gradual deterioration, the film also makes a determined effort to provide insight into how Jane, as the wife and mother of a family in constant need of supervision, became overwhelmed by the weight of juggling her dedications at home with her own scholarly ambitions.
The film attempts to span across the entirety of Stephen and Jane’s 30 year marriage, from their initial meeting at Cambridge University in the sixties, to their impassioned post-diagnosis wedding and subsequent home-making. True to its title, the film also adds slanted focus on Hawking’s intellectual progression as a theoretical physicist, who is trying to determine the origins of the universe, and everything that resides in it. The success of Hawking’s scientific career however, remains secondary to the essence of fearless and unscuppered romance that so forcefully drives the story.
While the immense power of love between Stephen and Jane is undoubtedly moving, and heart-warmingly tender in selected moments, the immovable focus on Hawking’s remarkable survival and the perseveringly supportive nature of Jane does slightly encase the film in a sugar-coating that detracts much insight into the darker elements of Hawking’s condition. His bout of depression after diagnosis for instance, doesn’t feel fully investigated, as the pace of the narrative seems to hurry him along into his marriage. And the relationship between Hawking and one of his nurses, Elaine Mason, that ultimately lead to the dissolve of his marriage to Jane is only briefly eluded to. Which seems slightly unbalanced given the amount of attention given to Jane’s strained dalliance with Choir Master and later husband, Jonathan Jones (Charlie Cox).
Thankfully though, the film is redeemed by it’s extraordinary lead performances. Redmayne’s transformational portrayal of Hawking is incredibly nuanced – with every mannerism, from the contortion of his hands to the way he holds his jaw, showcasing the intricate artistry of his performance. The way he subtly incorporates the gradual symptoms and affects of the disease into each scene is also something to be applauded, as the attention to detail makes for a remarkably realistic and believable imitation of the Professor. Plaudits also go to the real Stephen Hawking for the donation of his distinct animatronic voice in later scenes of the film. And of course, Felicity Jones’ portrayal of Jane is just as impressive; her understated performance, in which she carefully conveys a multitude of emotions whilst maintaining a seemingly calm exterior, gives an incredibly sympathetic perception to the character of Jane, without pretension.
Overall, while the aesthetic of the film is undoubtedly beautiful – with Marsh’s picturesque shots of traditional English landscapes and the cobbled streets of Cambridge – the linear structure of the story is questionable, as it doesn’t ever give the film a chance to really peak. But even so, the quality of the performances are enough to drive the film to its resolve, and are sure to deservedly earn numerous nominations in the coming Awards season.
The Theory of Everything (2014), directed by James Marsh, is released in the UK by Universal Pictures, Certificate 12A.