★★★★★ | The Theory Of Everything

The remarkable life story of the world-renowned physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking who was diagnosed with motor-neurone disease at the age of 21 years and defying medical prognosis of an imminent death went on to publish world-changing theories of relativity and quantum mechanics turns out to be one of the most tender and romantic movies of the year.

This new biopic from James Marsh (Oscar Winning Director of the documentary Man On The Wire) is based on the second biography written by Stephen Hawkins ex-wife Jane and focuses very much on how she enabled him to lead a full and rich life in spite of his crippling illness. Their story really starts when Hawkins, having won a First Honors Degree at Oxford University, chooses to transfer to Cambridge to do his post-graduate doctorate. Here he meets and immediately falls in love with Jane despite the fact that they seem like total opposites: she is studying poetry and is a devout churchgoer. When Hawkins discovers this last point he dryly remarks that he has a problem ‘with the whole celestial-dictator premise’. Somehow their marked differences seem to actually unify them, partly because one of the Hawkins’s strongest traits is his ability to be open to changing his opinions. None so more apparent when later on in life when he contradicted one of his most important theories and did a complete U-turn and actually proved that he got it wrong the first time around.

When Hawkins is forced to realise that all his clumsy physical missteps that culminate with him hitting his head during a sidewalk fall are because of the fact that he has this debilitating illness, it’s Jane who has the inner strength to push Hawkins into both marriages and also into not giving up. Despite the fact the Doctors have declared that he will be dead in two years, the couple starts a family whilst Hawkins finally starts his Dissertation.

Hawkins rapid physical deterioration makes him completely dependent on Jane for even the most basic daily bodily functions. The only parts that seem untouched by this particularly pernicious illness are his brain and his wit, both of which sustain and enable him to be the brilliant and very funny quick-witted man that he is. However, with both her husband needing 24/7 help and two children to bring up too, Jane needs some support and relief. She finds this in her local Church after joining the choir led by a handsome newly widowed man. Jonathan, still bereft after his recent loss, is at a loose end so is happy to help Jane out with some of the tougher tasks keeping her family functioning which inevitably draws the two of them closer. So much so that when she later gives birth to another son, there is talk about who the real father is.

By the time that Jane hires a nurse to help Stephen after he can no longer speak, their marriage which had finally been strained to near breaking point, now slowly moves to a separation and eventually divorce just as the movie reaches its end. There is one final scene of a graceful reconciliation when Hawkins is invited to Buckingham Palace to receive his Order of Merit from the Queen, which seems a fitting finish.

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Marsh doesn’t discount the vast body of Hawkins’s work in the story but he places it a context that makes it easier to understand for those of us that cannot comprehend the many complexities of ‘A Brief History of Time’ and all his subsequent intellectual theories. He clearly shows the vast importance of Hawkins findings on black holes and the boundaries of the universe with the reactions of the academic world and the acclaim and fame that accompanies all of this.

By focusing on the highly personal story of this remarkable man who could never have any of his achievements without the unselfish love and devotion of the exceptional woman, he gives us one of the most unique and compelling behind-the-scenes biopics ever. What raises it to be such an awe-inspiring movie, however, is the electrifying impassioned performance of young Eddie Redmayne as Hawkins.The defining trait of how brilliant he is in this role is that he has captured the very essence and soul of this great man as his body stops functioning. Without even realising it, you quickly appreciate that he has gone way beyond just capturing Hawkins’s physical decline in this deeply thoughtful career-defining performance that is nothing short of breath-taking. He is so wonderfully brilliant that the images of him lighting up the screen remain with you for days after. He should start practising his acceptance speech for the many Awards that he will now be showered with.

Felicity Jones gives a quiet and powerful performance as Jane Hawkins, and there is an impressive list of talented supporting actors like Charlie Cox, David Thewlis, Emily Watson and Simon McBurney.

The script by writer (and novelist) Antony McCarten is peppered with some perfect moments of real humour and wit and it makes this such an uplifting tale even in the darker moments of the story. Evidently, Jane Hawkin’s first biography was written immediately after the divorce was not quite so full of sweetness and light, so it’s probably a good thing they passed on to the happier, and presumably the truer, version of this story.

First published in Dec, 2014