***1/2 (out of five)
The most surprising thing about The Theory of Everything, which looks from the outside like a movie about Stephen Hawking, is that it’s a movie about Jane, his first wife. As gorgeously, perfectly played by Oscar nominated Felicity Jones, Jane meets an eccentric young science student at Cambridge, falls madly in love with him, and then devotes much of her life to him as he rapidly falls victim to motor neurone disease.
Of course, that student is Hawking (Eddie Redmayne, also Oscar nominated) and he goes on, despite his disease – which is truly crippling – to be one of the great scientific minds of the centuries, and certainly one of the most famously celebrated. But the quiet hero – and, as I say, the hero of this story – is Jane, and, indeed, this film is adapted from Jane’s book, Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen.
Once his disease hits him hard, Hawking actually falls away from the story – and the screen – quite a bit, and the movie puts front and centre something we all can relate to: feelings for someone else. The fact that Stephen falls for someone else too, and essentially tosses Jane aside, is a much more bitter pill to swallow, and the movie works a little too hard to balance their indiscretions and betrayals out. Really, Jane’s dalliance is understandable, while Stephen’s just feels astonishingly cruel. But the man has had a rough deal, and is truly brilliant, so one can see where the filmmakers were coming from, while finding it a little contrived.
Redmayne, as you may have heard, is superb, and he and Jones together make the movie. It has strengths and flaws in all other departments – the cinematography is at times gorgeous, at times way over the top, the score likewise, it’s too long, some of the supporting performances are by the book, and a lot of details are left out that we’re naturally curious about (the main one for me was the source of the Hawkings’ income in their earlier years) – but these two performers don’t miss a single beat, and have a real, dare I say it, chemistry. If there was an Oscar for Best Screen Pairing, by the cosmos, they would deserve it.