Dramatisation of Stephen Hawking’s life from gifted university student and romance with the woman who became his wife, to international acclaim as a physicist and the break-up of his marriage.
A Beautiful Mind by Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Eddie Redmayne’s acclaim for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking is undeniably well deserved. The film starts with a flash forward to him in a wheelchair in the advanced stages of his disease collecting his Companion of Honour in Buckingham Palace, but we first see him active in 1963 cycling down Cambridge’s narrow streets, a little wobble the first poignant hint of the degenerative motor neurone disease to come. Playful as a puppy, awkwardly bursting with enthusiasm and brilliance, he meets and falls in love with Jane (Felicity Jones), a modern languages student.
As their relationship develops, through the fireworks of a May Ball where he is reluctant to dance, so does his disease, until it is eventually diagnosed and he is given two years to live. But his combination of genius and charm has made Jane fall in love with him too, and she defies her parents to marry him despite his brief expection of life, willing to abandon her PhD and devote her life to looking after him. With her care, although his physical decline continues, he continues his quest to find the theory of everything and with the publication of A Brief History of Time, he is still able to carve out the intellectual reputation for which he is now renowned. The film, however, concentrates on his relationship with Jane and his scientific achievements are merely the background.
But the strain of looking after him and their two children begins to tell on Jane. Encouraged to seek an outside interest, she joins a church choir and is befriended by choirmaster Jonathan (Charlie Cox – Carter in Hello Carter). He becomes ‘one of the family’, helping Jane with Stephen. With the introduction of a third person, the dynamic of Jane and Stephen’s relationship changes. Inevitably, he falls in love with Jane, but her loyalty to her husband is too powerful and he leaves. In his place, a new nurse Elaine (Maxine Peake) comes into their lives. Her adoration of Stephen and his instant attraction to her destroy the marriage and she ultimately supplants Jane as his carer and becomes his second wife.
In Hawking’s wheelchair years, Redmayne contorts his body into the familiar lopsided-loll image we have of the paralysed Hawking. Even when Hawking’s face becomes immobile from the disease, Redmayne’s eyes alone convey his humour, his unexpected flirtiness – and maybe his veiled intentions. As Jane, Felicity Jones is a decent young woman of the era and her instinct for self-sacrifice and her devotion is touching, though her ageing over so many years is not entirely convincing and seems to be lacking in character development. Although the film is allegedly based on her memoir, with a script by Anthony McCarten, events and people have been rearranged to create a suitably dramatic structure.
Director James Marsh (Shadow Dancer) flashes backwards and forwards between the adult and young Hawking but the story is told in a conventional way. Feeling somewhat sanitised, it gives the impression of glossing over what must in real life have been the most distressing and dramatic events, Hawking’s own feelings about the mismatch between his mind and body, and even the everyday difficulties – apart from when Jonathan helps out – but nevertheless The Theory of Everything is still an emotionally affecting drama of human tragedy and survival.
The Theory Of Everything is released on 1st January 2015 in the UK