By Callum Creaney
A warm evening in Cambridge sees two young students together dressed in dinner suit and ball gown, on a secluded bridge at the far side of the garden, talking under the blanket of the night sky. The stars look down from above the parapets of the old university buildings as the pair lean in and share a first kiss. Fireworks explode overhead, framing the scene with shimmering streams of blue and red. The love of the young Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde fills the screen and the hearts in a moment which belongs in a fairytale, but the pair quickly discover that fairytales are fleeting.
Based on the memoirs of Hawking’s first wife, Jane, The Theory of Everything covers the chance meeting of the pair at a party and the relationship which follows. It is a charming and very human exploration of how, faced with his terminal diagnosis of motor neurons disease at the age of 21 and given only two years to live, Stephen and Jane make the very best of their situation and see themselves married with their first child by the time Stephen outlives his initial prognosis.
Fans of Hawking might be disheartened to know that the science at the root of the man’s fame takes a back seat to the remarkable and uplifting real life story of the scientist as a husband and father, but it does it so well that it’s entirely forgivable. Somehow, the film manages to deal with a delicate subject matter in a way which doesn’t tip-toe around the serious parts, nor does it indulge in the dramatization of the story. It maintains a positive manner in dealing with a completely humourless subject, and owes much of this to the fantastic performances of the lead actors.
Showing incredible commitment to the role, both physically and emotionally, Eddie Redmayne has already started reaping in the rewards for his fantastic portrayal of Stephen Hawking. His preparation for the role included hours spent with sufferers of MND, attempting to understand the condition, as well as consultations with professionals in a bid to recreate the degradation Stephen suffered at the hands of his illness. The result is a startlingly transcendent performance that forces audiences to forget that they’re watching an actor.
Felicity Jones as his dutiful wife, Jane, threatens to become the unsung hero of the project. Overshadowed by Redmayne’s physical transformation, it is easy to miss the way in which Jones manages to gracefully manoeuvre the thin line between reservedness and diligence as the redundant dreams of an arts scholar must be shelved to take care of her husband. She excellently displays the guilty struggle faced as Stephen battles the disease and lives on.
The film relies heavily upon the on-screen chemistry between Jones and Redmayne, but a great supporting cast also shines through: David Thewlis delivers as the mentor of the budding Hawking; Charlie Cox and Maxine Peake threaten to tip the finely balanced lifestyles of the Wilde-Hawking family, but remain likeable and understandable throughout; and Harry Lloyd does well as loyal college buddy, Brian.
At times, the agreeability of the film seems a little bit rounded off, as if softening the blow of the drama for movie audiences and readers of the story. Yet, this doesn’t mar the beauty that shines through in revealing the human tale of a scientific celebrity who continues to defy all expectations.document.currentScript.parentNode.insertBefore(s, document.currentScript);