(out of 5)
A career for a science prodigy begins brilliantly with research on physics and cosmology at Cambridge in the early 60s, where also meets the woman who would become the great love of his life. What happened after that is now well known, as Stephen Hawking (played here by Eddie Redmayne) achieves more and more in academics but is also diagnosed with motor neuron disease (now more commonly known as ALS) and told he has two years to live. Hawking’s complex and inquisitive mind is not affected by his situation but his ability to communicate his thoughts will be hampered until he is completely locked in, his body losing the ability to control all his muscles. His girlfriend Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones) is not phased by the challenges awaiting her, having fallen madly in love with him and, as we soon see, fully up to the task of taking care of her increasingly successful husband (much of it without external help) while also raising their three children. The film’s plot, based on Jane’s own book about her years being married to Hawking, covers the period between Oxford and the publication of his phenomenally successful best-seller A Brief History Of Time, when their relationship gave way to the decades of stress and struggle and resulted in a beneficial end for them both, and it is all done with a great deal of warmth, humour and wonder at the many things the two of them accomplished. The exceptional acting is at the core of the enjoyment that isn’t already provided by James Marsh’s sturdy direction and Benoit Delhomme’s gorgeous cinematography: as she did in The Invisible Woman, Felicity Jones does not allow the central male figure to overshadow the tremendously good work she is doing as the wind beneath a pair of compromised wings. In portraying the physical characteristics of the famous figure at the film’s centre, Redmayne never forgets to make Hawking’s deliciously wry personality and impish cleverness the focus of his portrayal, though don’t take that to mean that the physical transformation isn’t wonderful to behold. The drawback, though, is an overcrowded narrative that wants to have it all and never finds a spine: Hawking’s career was basically one success after the other, so the conflict has to happen in his personal life, but there’s an emphasis on not invading anyone’s privacy and the resolution between the two is so respectably peaceful, even when dealing with infidelity, that there isn’t much drama to it (including the academic pursuits that Wilde shunted aside in her years of caring for her husband, which are glided over far too easily). More investigation of two truly beautiful minds would have made the bedroom stuff feel less prissy, or a more complex view of their marriage (see Hilary and Jackie for details) would have made the Cliffs Notes version of his research and theories feel less lightweight. That said, it is a highly charismatic movie that is an absolute pleasure to sit through, and never feels exploitative or self-righteous about its examination of this incredible life.
Directed by James Marsh
Cinematography by Benoit Delhomme
Music by Johann Johannsson
Production Design by John Paul Kelly
Costume Design by Steven Noble
Film Editing by Jinx Godfrey