There’s a moment early in The Theory of Everything when young Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is at a formal ball with fellow Cambridge student Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), and under the dance`s UV light the men`s whites glow brighter than the girls`dresses. He asks her if she knows the reason (it`s because of the flourescents in Tide washing powder). Before he gives that answer, though, Jane leans over and laughingly, almost breathlessly, asks “Why?” It’s a little moment, but Jones’ delivery is so natural, it’s easy to believe that this young girl is falling in love with this young man, which of course she is, and while Redmayne’s superb performance is getting praise and talk of an Oscar, it’s worth remembering that the film belongs to Jones as much as to him.
Based on Jane Hawking’s memoir of her marriage to Stephen, The Theory of Everything is an exquisitely acted biopic of the world’s most famous living scientist. It covers all the expected highs and lows of Hawking’s life: his brilliant work at Cambridge in the 1960s, his diagnosis with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, his marriage, his daily struggle as his body deteriorates, the births of his children, the publication of A Brief History of Time.
At its heart it’s about Jane’s determination to make her husband’s life less difficult and support him as he becomes world-famous (even while her own academic dreams are quashed). But it’s also about her inner struggle as a Christian married to an Athiest (she’s devout; he has issues with the idea of “a celestial dictator”). Soon she finds herself drawn to the handsome, widowed choirmaster, Jonathan (Charlie Cox, very good), who becomes Stephen’s assistant/caregiver. There have been more dramatic love triangles, but this film is refreshingly free of histrionics, shouting matches, and general carrying-on, and I can’t help think it’s because it is a British film about a very particular subset of the English middle-class, one that always tries to keep a stiff upper lip. While the film is definitely a love story (and a very good one), it is also a nostalgic celebration of cracking Sunday roasts, homemade elderflower wine, real ale, cricket jumpers, herringbone jackets, lawn parties, and croquet (the film’s credits include a “croquet consultant”).
It helps, of course, that it’s set at Cambridge, a place that in the cinema is seemingly made for nothing else except gawky young men with floppy hair and delicate girls in pretty party frocks. There`s an awful lot of tea in this film. Redmayne’s performance is wonderfully subtle; it is much more than a simple impersonation of Hawking, and the film serves as a reminder of what Hawking must have been like before the disease took hold. He was told he had two years to live, which perhaps made him work harder to prove his theory about the Beginning of Time, and which perhaps also compelled Jane to want to marry him (“I want us to be together for as long as we`ve got,“ she tells him). You might be reminded of Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot (which this film resembles in many ways, possessing a similar warmth and humour, as well as a certain steely resolve in its main characters). Redmayne smiles a lot, and the film`s great charm is that it leaves it to the audience to decide if that is something Hawking cannot control or if it is because he is thinking of something really funny (Hawking`s wicked sense of humour is well-known). Jones, likewise, is extremely good. It`s not the sort of character – long-suffering wife – that gets a lot of notice, and other actresses this season are getting all the attention (Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl; Jennifer Aniston in Cake), but it`s a careful, warm performance with a great deal of grit underneath. Others in the excellent cast include Simon McBurney as Hawking`s father, Emily Watson as Jane`s mother, David Thewlis as Hawking`s mentor at Cambridge, Maxine Peake as his nurse, and Harry Lloyd as his college friend.
My fluffcast review here: