The Biopic is tricky territory for filmmakers. Eddie Redmayne’s depiction of Stephen Hawking as he succumbs to the ravages of Lou Gehrig’s disease to such a degree that he can eventually only communicate through a computer monitoring the muscle movement in his eye is utterly convincing. But even Redmayne’s startlingly accurate depiction of science hero and living legend Stephen Hawking will not save “The Theory of Everything” from the legions of critics weighing in on the “accuracy” issue. Friends past and present, and a host ofothers, even remote acquaintances will opine with entitlement and authority. Oscar winning director James Marsh (Man on Wire 2008 Academy Award for Best Documentary) and screenwriter Anthony McCarten are mostly faithful to their source, Jane Hawking’s book “Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen”. Artistic license is taken with the depiction of certain episodes and events in Hawking’s meteoric rise to fame as the 21st century’s very own Einstein, some that ring a little untrue.
But this is really Redmayne’s stage. Its hard to now imagine any other actor pulling off the physicality of Hawking’s downward curve from Lou Gehrig’s disease and the unlikely reality of surviving into his 73rd year as one of the most popular and productive Scientist’s of our time. Redmayne’s performance captures Hawking’s singular force of determination to live a full life despite his physical incapacity. The narrative also captures the unconditional yet thoroughly conflicted sacrifice from Jane Hawking. Married some 30 years to Hawking, the unique peculiarities of Jane’s (Felicity Jones) relationship to Stephen in fact shapes the narrative. This is where the film may have fallen short in an attempt to sanitize some of those complexities, opening up this biopic to the all too familiar charge of “inaccuracy”. Stephan Hawking and Jane fell deeply in love and Jane’s devotion to Hawking is unquestionable even as the circumstances of their relationship rapidly and without any warning dramatically changed. She maintains the household single handedly, bears him three children, nurses him and remains his most ardent supporter and adviser in establishing his brilliant career. She reticently sets aside her own academic aspirations out of necessity, endures criticism from her in-laws and denies for sometime the physical attraction to musician and family friend Jonathan Helyer-Jones (Charlie Cox). Amidst all this anxiety and unrequited passion (though Hawking confides to his friends that his disease has not curbed his libido or his ability to act on it) in the film, Jane and Stephen part amicably with an alluded and anti-climatic understanding that their relationship has, like a fading star, collapsed into a ‘black hole’ of insensitivity. Jane’s book tells of a much more acrimonious split with Stephen — surprise, tears and resentment abound. Stephen suddenly left Jane for his nurse Elaine Mason (Maxine Peak). Hawking divorced Mason in 2006 amidst controversial and bizarre rumours of physical abuse. He has remained close with Jane and family ever since. In the film Hawking’s randy behaviour is intimated but glossed over, as is his inability to match the devotion of his wife Jane. For all its strengths, like many biopics the film has just a little too much reverence for its subject at the cost of other supporting characters.
Despite the familiar reverence of the biopic, in many ways this is a very honest and satisfying film, and courageously done with the approval of Stephen and Jane, who visited the set during filming. What is just as interesting as Hawking conquering his illness and the story behind his ingenious observations, is Jane’s refusal to martyrdom. Her doctrinaire devotion to Hawking is plagued by doubt that is freely expressed. And Charlie Cox’s (Boardwalk Empire) excellent turn as Jonathan Hellyer-Jones gives us a much more honest perspective into the Hawking’s relationship. We see Jonathan’s sincere care and love for both Jane and Stephen that can only occur in the predicament where a remarkable need exists. The emotional fragility of all three characters is on full display and that they are able to sustain this three-way relationship for as long as they did becomes the most intriguing aspect of the film narrative. Screenwriter McCarten and director Marsh chose to handle the subject with a sensitivity and restraint that ultimately respects the characters. If only a ‘partial’ truth, the film and cast capture the essence of these characters. Redmayne, Jones and Cox deliver such remarkable portrayals of Stephen, Jane and Jonathan, that all three cast members should be strong candidates for SAG’s, BAFTA’s, Golden Globes and Academy Awards.
Eddie Redmayne will participate in a special on stage conversation about his acting career as part of the 26th Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF). The event is already sold out. TALKING PICTURES – CONVERSATIONS WITH THE BRIGHTEST TALENTS IN CURRENT CINEMA Saturday, January 03, 9:00 AM Annenberg Auditorium Palm Springs CA. The Theory of Everything was a special presentation at the Toronto International Film Festival 2014 (TIFF). The Theory of Everything has been nominated for 10 BATA’s and 5 Oscars including in the categories for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Music, Best British Film. Director James Marsh is also nominated for the BAFTA David Lean award for Direction.
Highly recommended.The Theory of Everything took home the awards for Best Picture and Best Actor at the 2015 BAFTAs.