In a cinema littered often with hastily put together and ill thought out biopics, it takes a very special story to stand out amongst the crowd and an even more competent storyteller to bring the tale to life. The story of Professor Stephen Hawking is often cited as one of the most compelling and interesting throughout recent British history; the Oxbridge taught professor who wrote one of the most seminal pieces of scientific discovery, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21 in 1963 and was given a life expectancy of two years. Even up until last year, documentaries and television movies have been made about Hawking’s life.
Not only is he one of the most important scientific minds the world has ever seen, he is also a medical marvel, managing to continue to live and work until today. But it is James Marsh’s story, The Theory of Everything, which breaks the mould of the biopic and it is really quite telling that it is the story is of Hawking and his first wife, Jane that is able to do so. The Theory of Everything is based upon Jane’s own writing in Travelling To Infinity about her life living with Stephen Hawking.
Without relying too much on hyperbole, The Theory of Everything is one of the most powerful examples of British filmmaking in years with two incredible and outstanding performances from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. Whilst 2014 saw Pride, ’71 and The Imitation Game look at real life stories with rigour and urgency, The Theory of Everything delves right into the hearts of its audience, revealing one of the most important stories of the one of the greatest minds in history. In it’s beauty, it’s pacing and it’s delicate nature, The Theory of Everything is one of the finest British films of the decade and hugely deserves to wipe the awards season clean.
But what really makes The Theory of Everything so important and gripping is that really this is a story of love, discovery and pushing yourself to make the best of what you have in your life. This is the story that everyone can relate to, this is the story that everyone would love to look back upon and see for themselves; that they tried their best and got the most out of their lives. Whilst of course the film finds itself dealing with scientific jargon, it does it’s best to express these more academic moments in layman’s terms, never judging the audience for perhaps not understanding Professor Hawking’s work and never delving too deeply into the science of it. Instead The Theory of Everything is the tale of two people who meet and fall in love, the deepest of love that will allow one person to support another through absolutely anything in their lives.
The film starts with Stephen, a student at Cambridge University. The story is much as it has been recalled before; as a student Hawking was never that interested in giving himself completely to what his lecturers and others around him wanted. The work was done but in the way he wanted to get it done. One night at a party, Stephen and Jane’s eyes meet across a room. They come from completely different worlds. After courting each other, the couple officially started dating. This is the first part of the story, beautifully told in glances between the couple. Nothing extraordinary happens; they meet the parents, each other’s friends and go to parties with each other. It is during a social event at the university that the audience is first presented with a couple totally and utterly in love. Stephen dances (although he had previously said that would never happen) and the couple kisses in an almost Brief Encounter like sensuality.
This is when the real story begins, all the different facets of Stephen’s life start to collide together; his work is starting to pick up steam and he becomes recognised by one lecturer in particular who would be able to open up realms and connections he could have never anticipated, his relationship with Jane becomes more intense and suddenly everything seems so far away as he is rushed to hospital after suffering a fall. He is diagnosed and there is no cure. Suddenly nothing seems possible for Stephen anymore.
He cuts everyone out of his life, he shuts down and locks himself away but it is with Jane pushing, with her encouragement and her zest for life that she finally brings Stephen out of this darkness. The couple gets married and are determined to love each other and work as hard as they can, even if Stephen’s life could suddenly be cut short.
There is no need to go through the rest of The Theory of Everything without writing Hawking’s own biography but needless to say, the film examines in brilliant depth Jane’s relationship with her husband and his work. At first, he manages to balance his work, his wife and their children but as his illness grips him more and more, his work becomes the only thing in his life that he really works on, which leaves Jane to make a choice between becoming a carer where she would have to give up her own work or leaving Stephen for a life.
Needless to say, there is no surprise twist in the story, they continue their marriage until Jane realises that she must get out of this for her own sake but something always remains between the pair.
Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Professor Hawking is a career best; powerful, emotional and incredible he brings to the big screen, the man as he has been known throughout recent history. Redmayne manages to bend his body, mask his own face and contort in the most incredible ways to fully be Hawking. He starts to give up his own voice as the film continues and Hawking’s illness becomes worse. He touches right at the heart of the audience and personifies the incredible core of the film. Playing Jane Hawking is Felicity Jones, who also is at her very best. She carefully personifies a sincere tension in the film; always having to make the choice between looking after her husband and making a life for herself.
With an expert supporting cast, as well as brilliant cinematography and a heartfelt and natural script, The Theory of Everything is cinema at its most powerful.