Twitter Plot Summary: The life story of Professor Stephen Hawking, as told from the perspective of his ex-wife. Sort of.
If you’re a fan of Stephen Hawking’s scientific work and want to see it explored in detail on the big screen, then The Theory of Everything is not the film for you. Focusing instead on the relationship between Hawking and his future wife (and now ex-wife) Jane as the film covers 25-odd years of their lives, beginning at Cambridge in 1963 where Hawking receives the diagnosis that would change the rest of his life. Hawking was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, a condition which gradually takes away all control over your muscles and essentially locked inside your own mind. Given just two years to live at that time, Hawking has since gone on to confound all expectations and continues to make significant contributions to the world of science despite his debilitating illness.
And much of this works thanks to the performances of Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, the former putting in a completely transformative appearance as Stephen Hawking as he transitions from able-bodied student to completely immobile and almost incapable of communicating with the outside world. For much of the film you easily forget that you are watching an actor portray the person, such is the quality of the performance and the work of the makeup department. There’s an inevitable quote from Tropic Thunder that may be slightly relevant here as there is a fine line between depicting an illness and being offensive. Unlike Tropic Thunder, there’s no such worries here.
Jones meanwhile excels as Jane, the young woman who decides to stay with Stephen when he receives his 2 year survival diagnosis, then conveys the growing weariness and anguish as they have three children, but the years roll on and Stephen doesn’t succumb to the Motor Neuron Disease that has slowly taken away everything except for his mind.
Cue the introduction of Jonathan (Charlie Cox), a church man who initially offers to help Jane with caring for Stephen and soon descends into him and Jane having feelings for one another – in other words, an obligatory albeit slightly off-kilter standard romance drama narrative, which are ten a penny across the genre. This would be less appealing if the direction hadn’t been handled competently and sensitively by James Marsh, complemented by some stunning cinematography from Benoit Delhomme, known most recently for his work on Boy In The Striped Pyjamas and Lawless.
As a story about triumphing over adversity and a sub-textual discussion about discovering and creating beauty in what is ostensibly a cold, dark, barren and practically empty universe (and the potential absence of God, a discussion not worth entering into here), The Theory of Everything is a triumph. If considered from the perspective of Hawking’s professional career or even as a compelling romance story then it’s sadly lacking, and it is the balance between these two counterpoints that will determine whether you fully enjoy the story or not. In any case, it is successful simply for making you forget that you are watching a performance and for the script so effectively tugging at the heartstrings.