Review: The Theory of Everything

The biopic of Stephen and Jane Hawking does its subjects a disservice, says

Theory of Everything WEdding Kiss Still

Director: James Marsh
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox
Running time: 123 minutes
Rating: ★★★☆☆

The Theory of Everything charts the romantic life of legendary physicist Stephen Hawking over the course of three decades. From his early days as a lazy yet brilliant student at Cambridge, through his diagnosis with motor neurone disease, to his rise to fame as one of the pre-eminent scientists of the modern age, the film intimately explores the rise and fall of his marriage to his devoted wife Jane.

Adapted by Anthony McCarten, the (mostly) true life tale is based on the memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Wilde Hawking. Although some liberties are taken with the chronology and facts are warped to suit the emotional arc, The Theory of Everything positions itself as a fairly accurate account of Stephen and Jane’s married life. However, by crowbarring such a complicated and real relationship into a traditional biopic structure, it ultimately ends up as a plot we’ve seen many times before, but with a few added bells and whistles.

Placing the focus squarely on the relationship aspects, the film sadly glosses over much of Hawking’s scientific achievements with perfunctory and shallow exposition. Likewise, large swathes of his academic career are ignored in favour of narrative simplicity. It makes for a smoother cinematic ride, but also robs the kitchen-sink elements of legitimacy.

Still, this focus on the nitty-gritty details of the marriage does lend the story an emotional edge, and the central pairing make fine work with some genuinely tender moments. Eddie Redmayne portrays Hawking with grace and subtlety, showing the physical decline of the man with an impressive lack of flamboyance. Likewise, Felicity Jones lends an empathy and kindness to Jane, an impressive feat given the strangely underdeveloped role.

However, for every tender moment there’s some hammy dialogue or overly soapy melodrama to distract from the genuine emotion. Many key plot points come across as mawkish rather than touching; an over reliance on faux “amateur” footage and invasive over-the-top orchestral swells seem lazy and manipulative.

James Marsh directs with unobtrusive finesse and adds a layer of gloss to a script that would probably be better suited for Saturday night on ITV. Meanwhile, the supporting cast try their best with some clichéd and caricatured roles, Charlie Cox coming off best as a kind-natured church choirmaster who sparks up a sweet relationship with Jane. Elsewhere, Hawking’s parents are rendered as one-dimensional pantomime bastards rather than rounded human beings, while Jane’s family and friends are conspicuous by their complete absence.

Ultimately, then, The Theory of Everything isn’t quite successful. A by-the-numbers biopic, tailor-made for awards season, it’s held together by a handful of genuinely tender moments thanks mostly to a pair of excellent performances at its core.