‘The Theory of Everything’: An intimate, emotional triumph that resonates long after the credits roll

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Redmayne and Jones’ performance were incredible.

WHEN it was revealed that there was to be released a film focusing upon the life of Professor Stephen Hawking, anticipation yet simultaneous doubt ensued amidst both the general cinema going public and film critics alike. At a basic level this was understandable, for the biopic is one of the most notoriously difficult of filmic genres to pull off. The viewer will likely have a predetermined vision of that person and as such, the biopic ideally must surpass mere impersonation to become something more refreshing and memorable. Certainly, a figure as unique and iconic as Hawking was always going to be challenge to pull off on the big screen.

Fortunately, with The Theory of Everything, director James Marsh meets such challenges head on, elevating Hawking’s inspiring story into a deeper, timeless reflection on love and the human spirit. The duality of central protagonists in the form of Hawking and his first wife Jane adds an interesting dimension, allowing us an in-depth look at not only Stephen himself as the better known figure, but also the woman who sacrificed so much for him and whose strength of character is deserving of its own big screen debut. Whilst both real-life parties have praised the film and in particular, its two lead actors, the real-life Jane noted that the film somewhat skates over certain truths of the relationship to retain an idealised, crowd-pleasing quality. Certainly, as a strict biopic the film does not entirely do justice to the couple’s story. However, as a wider testament to love and human endeavour, the romanticised vision certainly suits.

The depiction of their early courtship had the potential to slip into cloyed, saccharine territory, but there is such charm to be found in Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones’ performances that the whirlwind romance is genuinely touching. The early scenes sparkle with energy and have a sweeping, almost magical quality that reflects the carefree, youthful nature of this early romance. In contrast, later shots appear slow and lingering, with a subdued scenic palate reflecting the lagging, despairing devastation of Hawking’s illness. Whilst Stephen battles his condition, we see Jane simultaneously experiencing her own personal struggles; caring tirelessly for her husband as she helplessly watches the disease ravage his body and at times, his spirit. The film impresses in the way it explores the limits of love in an unimaginably testing situation, whilst traveling the entire spectrum of emotion. Moments of aching sadness accompany the more joyful, as the couple face many trials whilst finding time for quiet, intimate moments of happiness and laughter amidst the pain.

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Wonderful reconstruction of the iconic wedding day photo

In a career defining role that has earnt him a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and an Oscar, Eddie Redmayne has marked himself out as one of the finest British actors of his generation through his role as Hawking. With a face full of boyish charm, he perfectly captures the physicist at his most exuberant and carefree, whilst seeming to slip effortlessly into the frail, mentally drained figure of an older Hawkins suffering the devastating effects of ALS. He does more than just impersonate Hawking – he near embodies him. One particular scene, in which Hawking tries desperately to signal the names of colours using eye movements, serves not only as one of Redmayne’s finest moments onscreen, but perhaps one of the most affecting examples of subtle physical acting committed to celluloid in many a year. He is barely able to utter a sound, but in that moment his face, crumpled, tears emerging as he bows his head is a moment of emotional defeat completely breaks your heart. Jones as Jane Hawking is also a triumph. She portrays the character as a tower of strength, stoic yet with a sense of vulnerability. Although Jane could so easily have been swamped beneath the almighty filmic presence of Hawking, Jones allows her the powerful on-screen presence she deserves.

Of course, films about brilliant intellectuals plagued by health issues are nothing new. 2001’s A Beautiful Mind, chronicling the life of mathematician and schizophrenia sufferer John Nash, bagged Russell Crowe an Oscar, whilst 1989’s My Left Foot also earned Daniel Day Lewis an Oscar for his portrayal of painter, writer and Cerebral palsy sufferer Christy Brown. Like these films, The Theory of Everything succeeds in that it presents itself with the timeless adage of ‘triumph over adversity’, a surefire crowd pleaser. Further impressive is the way in which the film interweaves complex issues regarding science and religion into the central love story. In particular, Hawking’s own scientific theorems are explored through the prism of this love, allowing food for thought in a way that is easily accessible and unpretentious. The film ends on a life-affirming and ambiguous note, leaving us with a fitting sense of contemplation upon life, love and beyond.