Director: James Marsh
Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, David Thewlis, Harry Lloyd, Charlie Cox, Maxine Peake
Based on her book about her life with Professor Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything tells the story of the relationship between Jane (Jones) and Stephen (Redmayne). When they meet he’s struggling to decide what to do for his doctorate, and at first they don’t really seem like a good match as he’s a staunch atheist and she’s a devout Christian. Despite this core difference in their beliefs romance blossoms, although the flame threatens to be vanquished early on as he is diagnosed with motor neurone disease where the average lifespan is only two years. Together they fight for life and build a family but each day is a struggle.
I think it is important to note that the film is based on the book by Jane Hawking because I feel a lot of people will go in expecting it to be a biography of Stephen Hawking’s whole life, detailing his thought processes and exploring the impact of his work. The film does give glimpses of this but the focus is on the relationship, so if you are hoping for more science than love you’ll have to wait until the inevitable biography they do make of his life. The bits of his work included in the film are explained well so that even people who aren’t versed in cosmological concepts will be able to understand them, for they are woven into the structure of the film to reflect the narrative as well.
As for the main thrust of the story, it was okay. At times I feel it became bogged down in its own yearning for sentimentality and preferred to cast things in a romantic glow, merely hinting at the conflict and hard decisions rather than exploring the true ramifications of them. I was surprised there wasn’t more effort to show how remarkable it was that he survived past the expected date, as although the passage of time is able to be charted from the ages of the children the different scenes aren’t marked with time stamps, and aside from the doctor initially telling him that he basically had two years to live, the fact that Hawking defied the odds wasn’t acknowledged. I also didn’t like how he his friends disappeared for a long stretch of the film, for it made it seem like they had abandoned him.
As their relationship progressed there were difficulties, but when the nurse Elaine enters the picture towards the end the relationship fizzles out yet there’s no insight into Hawking’s thought process as to exactly why, so it all feels a bit sudden and anticlimactic as the film is framed to be a story of love triumphing.
Where the film really shines is in the performances. Jones is likeable and sympathetic as Jane but Redmayne totally immerses himself in the role and it’s a performance where an actor disappears into the role so much that you forget you’re watching an actor. He is absolutely incredible through every stage of the film and I’m sure he will receive many plaudits and awards, and rightly so.
So where do I stand? Well, I liked it, but I feel like it became wrapped up in its own sentimentality and it felt like some of the more dramatic moments were only hinted at, or happened off-screen. But it’s worth watching if you’re interested in the life of Hawking, and especially for Redmayne’s performance, which is simply astounding. There was enough talk of physics and philosophy to satisfy me, and I enjoyed the parts where their beliefs clashed, but remember that this is a story mainly about the romance rather than the physics.