It’s the combination of disability, biography, physical transformation and British pride that makes me nervous about films like The Theory of Everything. More often than not, a film possessing roughly this mixture of ingredients appears at this time of year. It’s no surprise that this is the formula for award season success. Only four years ago we saw Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech clean up at both the BAFTAs and the Academy Awards in numerous categories and for several different elements; both artistic and technical. There is no denying that James Marsh’s Steven Hawking biopic is this year’s The King’s Speech. I mean this in a largely positive way. It is a typically British portrayal of a British genius. The man we now associate with his artificial American-accented voice (something we, as a nation, will possibly always be bitter about) is taken out of his iconic wheelchair and back to his energetic days at the University of Cambridge. When the end credits roll it didn’t surprise me to discover that the film was based on a book by Hawking’s ex-wife and not himself. Although The Theory of Everything revolves around Hawking, his battle with motor neuron disease and his substantial contributions to science, his wife is always there. This is a love story. The Theory of Everything stems from this crucial detail and becomes something more intense and moving than just another Hawking biopic. It’s nominated for five Academy Awards and ten BAFTAs. It is going up against similar competitors such as The Imitation Game – another British biopic about the battles of another British mastermind which is admittedly, a slightly better film. Without its performances, The Theory of Everything would be a nice enough film, perhaps more at home on our televisions. Awash with nice pastel colours and scenic shots of Cambridge, The Theory of Everything is quaint and familiar but its two lead actors make it something all the more spectacular.
Eddie Redmayne plays Hawking from his student days to his contemporary ones. He transforms into Hawking – giving a performance that seems simultaneously effortless and exhausting. I use the word effortless with trepidation. What I mean to say is that Redmayne’s talent is effortless in a role that is anything but. He is astounding to watch – giving a performance we can both admire physically and believe for the purpose of the narrative. You watch his movement with admiration but his encapsulation of Hawking ensures we avoid being distracted from the story itself. It also helps that by his side is Felicity Jones. Both actors have spoken about each other fondly in press interviews and on screen their chemistry lifts the whole piece. Jones is arguably as central to The Theory of Everything as Redmayne – in the same sense that Jane Hawking was possibly as crucial to the physicist’s multiple triumphs as he himself was. The film limits its focus on the science of Hawking. It is more concerned with the sacrifice, dedication and heartbreak that comes with an illness as debilitating as motor neuron disease. There is no denying that this is an Award driven film. It will probably lose its shine in a year or so and I’m convinced it will age quickly and horribly. Still, what makes it more sincere than the likes of other British biopics that have gone before it are the central themes of marriage, religion, commitment and courage.
Thanks for reading and let’s all keep supporting our beloved film industry.