Having made the crossover from documentary to a more traditional narrative feature, James Marsh follows up his critically acclaimed drama Shadow Dancer with an ambitious biopic, studying the life of the famous physicist Stephen Hawking and his companionship with wife Jane. However this is not an idealistic, love in the face of adversity tale, but a subversive, authentic study of love and relationships.
Eddie Redmayne – turning in his finest, most nuanced performance to date – plays Hawking, who we first meet when studying cosmology at Cambridge University. It is there that he bumps into Jane (Felicity Jones) at a party. Their affections are palpable, and they fall for one another right away, only for the former’s health to put a strain on proceedings. When discovering he has motor neurone disease (and just two years left to live), he refuses to lose sight of his infectious enthusiasm for life, defying the odds and continuing on with his studies. However it does take its toll on his wife, as Jane struggles to care for their three children as well as for Stephen, leaving her to bring in the assistance of a local church-goer Jonathan (Charlie Cox).
We observe a period to this immensely intelligent man’s life that is not as well documented, which therefore manages to not only entertain the viewer, but enlighten them too; however Marsh could be accused of overreaching with the narrative. If you take the forthcoming Martin Luther King biopic Selma, for instance, that’s the perfect example of a film which remains within its means, focusing solely on just a short period of the political activist’s life. However Marsh makes the mistake of covering too much ground, in a tale that expands across decades – and it’s overbearing. It’s a small blemish on an otherwise accomplished piece of cinema, and is a vehicle for Redmayne and Jones to turn in their best performances so far. The former may be taking the vast majority of the plaudits, but the talented actress matches him at every turn – and in some regards, it’s even more impressive, as the role of Jane requires a distinctive level of subtlety and nuance. She’s incredibly empathetic and endearing, and you always remain on her side, despite any shortcomings that exist. It’s those flaws which make this picture so special – as both characters are wonderfully crafted. Imperfect, flawed, and human.
The Theory of Everything is an extremely emotive piece, and it’s visceral too: in the way that Marsh will keep the camera lingering over brief, seemingly insubstantial moments of mobility early on, enhancing the emotional impact in the latter stages when Hawking’s physical condition deteriorates, preaching the notion of taking the smallest things for granted. But in true, British style, there’s comedy implemented consistently throughout, in a film that truly does take you through the motions.