I’ve never been a science person. I just don’t have the right mind for it. If you don’t believe me then you can ask my school teachers. I was definitely best at chemistry which is the only reason behind my implausible decision to study it for my A-Levels. My friend and I were so bad at the subject that, upon hearing we were both applying to Oxford, our teacher laughed at us. Turned out this was quite an astute assessment as I didn’t even get an interview but still mean. Still, it does go to highlight my obvious lack of a scientific mind. I’ve always been more of the dreamy and creative type. Still analytical, obviously, but with a more sentimental than structured focus, I guess. When faced with numbers and equations I just don’t really care. Give me words, music, or art and I’m much more comfortable.
The opening scenes of The Theory of Everything has a bit of a Hitchcock feel to it. It’s the suspense factor. We all know how this ends for physicist Stephen Hawking so every shake of his hand and every stumble is just foreshadowing of later heartache. As young Stephen meets his future wife, Jane, we are just waiting for their happy life together to be turned upside down. Yes, we know that Hawking will change the scientific world but this is the story of a marriage. A marriage that initially plays out as a fairytale but quickly becomes a nightmare. Even if the film isn’t quite prepared to show it in all of it’s damaging glory. I guess it would rather leave you filled with hope instead of the cruel reality.
It all starts off quite brightly, as we see young Cambridge graduate student, Stephen Hawking, as a brilliant man who can’t quite bring himself to do the work. He’s very laid back about his studies and is taking his sweet time to pick the subject for his PhD. Then he meets Jane Wilde and the pair fall in love. It plays out like every romantic-comedy you could imagine. The arty and beautiful Jane is drawn to the awkward scientist. They have dinner at his parent’s house before he asks her to an upcoming dance. He doesn’t dance though. Instead preferring to watch his fellow students and imagine them as stars in the process of being born or dying. Well, until the pair dance on a bridge surrounded by fairy lights. It’s the epitome of cliche.
But, as we know, this doesn’t have a happy ending. Just as Stephen comes up with his first revolutionary theory about the beginning of the universe, he is diagnosed with motor neurone disease. Given only 2 years to live, Stephen and Jane resolve to carry on. They survive. The pair marry, have 3 children, and see Stephen turn his back on his first theory for an even greater one. But the marriage is under a great deal of strain. Jane needs help and she finds it from choirmaster, Jonathan. And we see Stephen’s own eye start to wander thanks to his new nurse, Elaine. The inevitable break-up of the marriage has been on the cards but it doesn’t make the reality less heartbreaking.
This is a film that is built on its central performances. Eddie Redmayne, who deservedly won an Oscar for his portrayal of Hawking, is unbelievably good here. There was always the worry that the portrayal of a man whose muscles are wasting away could go horribly wrong. However, what we see on-screen works well. We see the subtle changes from the outset and You look at some of the other films he’s been in and it’s hard to connect that person. We know he’s a good actor but you compare this with the bumbling Newt from Fantastic Beasts. And he has brilliant chemistry with Felicity Jones. Jones is also perfect here. She has the right level of strength, sweetness, and pain throughout. The film is based on Jane’s memoirs so you’d suspect it would put her in the favoured position. Whilst you suspect certain things are played down and others are played up, the film is very measured. Although, you suspect that there were more bad feelings than the ending suggested. That this film favours a fairytale ending is unfortunate but understandable.
After all, the basic message of this film is not to give up. We see Stephen, and by association Jane, as his life falls apart but he is determined to do what he’s always wanted. He never lets anything stop him in his desire to discover the mysteries of the universe. This film is a celebration of a brilliant mind that never gave up. It gives a realistic look into a love that is slowly disintegrating and the trouble two people go to in order to keep it together for as long as possible. You may suspect it lacks facts but this is a marriage that has depth.