This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 8th February 2015
A biopic of science’s most famous electronic voice may initially prompt cries of “awards-bait!” but The Theory of Everything rightly deserves all its nominations (it’s up for five Oscars, having already won Best Actor and Musical Score at the Golden Globes).
Adapted by New Zealander Anthony McCarten from Jane Hawking’s book, the film recounts the deep commitment of a love affair which was ignited at Cambridge University in 1963, shortly before Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with motor neuron disease and given two years to live.
It’s no spoiler to say that Hawking exceeded this life expectancy and went on to world renown in physics and cosmology. Viewers may be less aware, however, of his personal achievements and the extraordinary dedication of his wife.
In a sensational performance by young British actor Eddie Redmayne (Les Miserables), Hawking’s gradual physical decline is gut-wrenching and powerfully conveyed.
Redmayne’s nuanced transformation guarantees him a second gong this month (interestingly, Benedict Cumberbatch pioneered the onscreen personification of Hawking in the 2004 television movie Hawking, a role which set him on his trajectory to superstardom. Redmayne may be thanking his lucky stars that Cumberbatch wasn’t cast in this).
As Jane, the lovely, God-fearing arts student who wins the atheist physicist’s heart, Felicity Jones (The Invisible Woman) proves yet again a natural talent for inveigling not just her co-star but the audience, too – the couple’s chemistry is in their eye contact (captured by the beautiful photography of Benoit Delhomme, who also shot The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and romantic drama One Day) rather than physical fumblings, and Jones brings grace and credibility to her role.
She is up for a slightly more surprising Best Actress award, and though she is likely to lose to the powerhouse that is Julianne Moore, Jones’ nomination is a tribute to her restrained dignity.
It’s hard to know who to admire more: Jones, or the real-life Jane who must have been an absolute trouper. Lighthearted and often witty, the narrative moves apace through time towards present day.
Wisely realising you don’t need to get flash with the structure, director James Marsh, whose gripping documentary Man on Wire is a must-rent, has crafted a simply told love story into a fascinating slice of an extraordinary life.