A film about a brilliant mathematician with a life-threatening illness? Surely, that’s all a bit of an intellectual downer for a mainstream movie?
Not so, when the movie in question is the positively life-affirming and surprisingly humorous The Theory of Everything.
This fact-based film (the source material is the book by Jane Hawking) charts the life of probably the most well-known living cosmologist, Professor Stephen Hawking (played immaculately by Eddie Redmayne), author of A Brief History of Time, who even as an undergraduate at Cambridge was attracting attention for his brilliant mind.
However, Stephen’s mind was the only part of his body that was sparking on all cylinders. As he courted fellow student, the lovely Jane (Felicity Jones) and completed his studies, the rest of his body started to fall apart.
He was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease and given a life expectancy of no more than 10 years. But through sheer force of will, the positive engagement of that amazing intellect, and a rather impish sense of humour, Hawking survived and even flourished.
Jane became his wife, the mother of his children and his constant companion as his physical state deteriorated to the point where he was both wheelchair bound and without speech. This is a physical transformation Redmayne accomplishes with some astonishing acting; in one or two scenes you’ll believe it really is the actual Stephen Hawking sitting in that wheelchair on screen.
Viewers expecting a dissection of Hawking’s scientific theories may feel short-changed as most of the film is dedicated to exploring the relationship between Stephen and Jane and how his disability put an intolerable strain on the marriage. But that’s what this film is about – how everyday, mundane tasks (like getting up and down stairs, or lifting a glass of wine) and relationships with your closest family and friends become impossible when your arms and legs won’t do what your mind is telling them to and even asking for a cup of tea has to be accomplished via computer. But, in a way, it is also about how this leaves your mind and imagination free to explore the universe in all its glory and quirkiness.
Stephen Hawking is a remarkable man and here Eddie Redmayne gives a remarkable performance; nuanced, subtle, never caricaturing Hawking’s disability. Felicity Jones also holds her own as the tenacious Jane in a film about life, love, ups, downs, defeats and triumphs, laughs, tears, smiles, the universe and even joining the local choir – so, in a way it really is about everything.