Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, David Thewlis
Genre: Drama/ Biopic
While studying for his PhD at Cambridge, Stephen Hawking (Redmayne) meets and falls in love with fellow student Jane Wilde (Jones) but when Stephen is diagnosed with motor neuron disease and given just two years to live it seems their love will be cut tragically short. However, together they defy impossible odds to have a family and for Stephen to get his PhD and become one of the most celebrated and famous physicists of the 20th century.
Every awards season you get the films that have the words ‘for your consideration’ steeped all over their narrative and The Theory of Everything certainly fits that criteria; I may sound cynical (as per usual – but at least I am consistent!) when I say this, but this is a film that was made with the intention of winning awards. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing if the film is good, and the story of Stephen Hawking is without doubt one that deserves to be told. However it has been told before (ironically one of those is a TV movie starring best actor rival Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Hawking), but the difference is that The Theory of Everything primarily focuses on the relationship between Stephen and Jane Hawking, with the book written by Jane Hawking being the screenplay’s primarily source.
So though Stephen Hawking’s scientific discoveries sometimes pop up at the narrative’s convenience, they are often skipped over. So anyone after a film that focuses on that side of Stephen Hawking’s life will be disappointed. However a marriage involves two people, and one person’s struggle is shared with another, and despite being pure Oscar bait with its generic narrative, The Theory of Everything is overall a deeply engaging drama.
Every aspect of the film is the usual combination of efficient competence and extremely safe middle-of-the-road A-fits-nicely-into-B storytelling, and the fact it is a true story of undeniable power combined with great performances without a doubt elevates what is generic material. The aesthetic and technical qualities of The Theory of Everything such as direction, script and cinematography are all of the utmost competence, but do not deserve any special mention for being exceptional as they simply are not, just competent. Likewise, Jóhann Jóhannson, a very talented composer who put together the exceptional and haunting score for 2013’s Prisoners, delivers a very well put together, but typical plinkity-plonk score very similar to Alexandre Desplat’s similar Oscar bait score for The King’s Speech.
There is without doubt an air of complacency as all involved know that the fact it is a good story means they can just play it safe with the technical and aesthetic aspects of the film, but “if it aint broke”, and despite this The Theory of Everything just about gets away with it as the audience automatically care about these characters due to who they are.
As Stephen Hawking Eddie Redmayne gives an incredible and physical performance, and it should not be underestimated just how great a performance it is, as it would have been very easy to simply delivery an unnecessarily over the top performance, but Redmayne avoids such pitfalls and his performance makes sure that when the film attempts to tug at our heartstrings (sometimes with an element of saccharine cynicism) it does so successfully.
Due to the physical nature of Redmayne’s performance, it was always going to automatically get more credit and attention than Jones’, as well as upstaging it on screen in any scene which in some ways makes Jones’ more necessarily reserved performance more difficult and thankless, yet obviously less physically demanding. She is also excellent, even if it is not really a character that far away from characters she has played in films like The Invisible Woman or Breathe In. Characters that demonstrate a classic British stiff upper lip in the face of adversity are always popular come awards season, and Jones’ performance make sure that the character of Jane Hawking emerges as deeply sympathetic, despite the script’s clichés.
The supporting cast of Charlie Cox, David Thewlis, Harry Lloyd, Maxine Peake and Simon McBurney are also excellent, but in some ways predictably so. As the narrative develops and Stephen Hawking’s condition worsens, and a love triangle develops between Jane and Charlie Cox’s music teacher Jonathan, heartstrings are relentlessly tugged at with reasonable success, and despite a very safe and predictable narrative, The Theory of Everything is never anything less than an engaging drama.
Despite containing the usual safe, middle of the road competence of any typical Oscar bait film, the power of the true story at its heart and the superb performances (especially Eddie Redmayne) make sure that The Theory of Everything is an emotionally engaging drama.