10 years in the making

The Theory of Everything

It’s difficult not to be affected by the paradox of Stephen Hawking, his body awkwardly twisted and immobile in his wheelchair, while his mind is constantly at work searching for answers to some of the biggest and most mysterious questions about the universe. What’s so cruel and unjust about the motor neurone disease that’s ravaged his body is set out bluntly to Hawking when he was diagnosed at the age of twenty one. The muscles will decay, the body will waste away and the mind will stay intact, except that no one will know your thoughts. Hawking defied medical predictions by living fifty years longer than the two he was given by doctors, and while his body has deteriorated, modern technology has meant that his ideas are known all over the world.
It’s hard to imagine how an actor can translate all this into a convincing portrayal of the scientist, but Eddie Redmayne deserves all the acclaim he’s been receiving for his performance in The Theory of Everything. Hawking himself has remarked, ‘At times, I thought he was me.’ It’s a physical performance that makes you feel the weight of his body as it crashes to the floor or slumps down the stairs. Then, depicting Hawking when almost completely paralysed, Redmayne goes far beyond simple mimicry, using the slightest flicker of his eyes, lifting of his eyebrows, and movement of his mouth to convey his mischievous personality, his self-deprecating wit and his wicked sense of humour.
Clearly Hawking couldn’t have achieved success without his wife Jane Wilde, and Felicity Jones is equally impressive in the role. The film is just as much about her as Hawking. You don’t feel this is a martyr or self-sacrificing woman, but someone who made her own choices and is just as admirable in her strength, determination and intelligence. The strain of the disability and Hawking’s fame inevitably takes its toll during their long and complicated marriage and they find unconventional ways of dealing with it. Considering it’s a biopic of two living people, based on a memoir written by Jane, it comes across as a believable and real relationship, one which Hawking has said is ‘broadly true’. The truth is bound to be much more complex and you imagine there must have been a lot more pain, both physical and emotional than was portrayed in the film
The relationship is the core of the film and it doesn’t try to offer any insight into genius, and nor is there much about Hawking’s science. James Marsh’s direction ensures it’s romantic without being schmaltzy, and moving without being overly sentimental or mawkish. You feel the terrible sense of injustice, but you also feel genuinely inspired and uplifted by a love story that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than messy and imperfect.
There could be an interesting battle for Best Actor between Cumberbatch as Alan Turing and Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in the upcoming awards season. Let’s hope Felicity Jones also gets a deserved nomination.