That the subject matter of this film is the kind of complex mathematics that makes your brain fizz shouldn’t put you off because although it’s a little clunky in places, its stellar cast is uniformly good.
This is the true story of a young, unschooled maths whizz, Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel), who left everything he knew and loved in India (including his beautiful wife, played here by Devika Bhise) to come and study at Cambridge just before the First World War.
He was tutored by chain-smoking GH Hardy (Jeremy Irons) and the equally brilliant mathematician Littlewood (Toby Jones) but found it hard to integrate with the students and faced downright hostility from some of his other tutors who couldn’t stand the thought that an uneducated upstart from the colonies knew more about maths than they did.
It is the prejudice and ignorance he faced – and ultimately conquered by becoming a Fellow of Cambridge – that forms the main part of the film and director Matthew Brown does at times portray it with a rather unsubtle brush. However, the relationship between Hardy and Ramanujan is solidly built and rather appealing. There are also some great scenes where the tutors who support him (including a lovely cameo from Jeremy Northam as Bertrand Russell) argue (in a very uptight British way) with those who oppose him.
This is a small movie containing big ideas and although not wholly successful, it does have a certain charm about it. As we saw in Slumdog Millionaire, Dev Patel can do wide-eyed astonishment and enthusiasm very well and he makes Ramamujan thoroughly likeable, but it is Jeremy Irons who dominates most scenes he is in with a quiet, effortless control that perfectly captures the older man’s wisdom and life experience.