It is not surprising that the 33-year-old British actor Eddie Redmayne received an Oscar for his outstanding performance in ‘The Theory of Everything’. Mr Redmayne (Les Miserables) has outdone himself: superb is the only word to describe his physical transformation into the theoretical physicist Stephen W. Hawking who survived a form of motor neurone disease (MND).
Directed by James Marsh and adapted by screenwriter Anthony McCarten from the memoir of Jane Hawking, Travelling to Infinity, ‘The Theory of Everything’ won the BAFTA award for outstanding British film. This biopic looks inside the inspiring and extraordinary life of a man who “has exceeded every expectation” and a woman who gave up her youth to follow her heart.
Felicity Jones (The Invisible Woman), another remarkable actor, plays Jane Wilde, Stephen’s first wife, joining Eddie Redmayne in this dramatic yet warm-hearted story of “space and time”. From the very first scene, this “perfect couple” grow together sharing the joy as well as the bitterness of life, a life ravaged by a “very heavy defeat”. In their fictional world, however, they manage to create a strong and powerful connection that grips the audience throughout.
Although the former Mrs Hawking was reluctant to see her own life transferred onto the big screen, the result is a triumph. Describing the life of a theoretical physicist might seem a big challenge; most people cannot decode the mysterious world of physics that Dr Hawking inhabits but the movie offers more than equations to solve. Marsh and McCarten manage to amalgamate the coldest side of science with the warmer and softer side of love in a witty and genuine way.
A peaceful and picturesque 1960s Cambridge is where the “everything” begins. Stephen Hawking is a young doctoral student in cosmology, perpetually seeking a way to “reverse time”. With his nonchalance and his kind manners, he eventually makes an important connection – Jane Wilde, his future wife. She is an 18-year-old arts student preparing for a PhD in medieval poetry. An intense and overwhelming fairy-tale starts blooming – dipped in the glow of fireworks, Stephen with a timid and soft voice asks her to dance.
However, as much as anyone would love to “wind back the clock”, those delicate and fascinating love scenes are swiped away by dark shadows. At the age of 21, Stephen’s body starts showing the first signs of a degenerative motor neurone disease: a shaking hand, a lurching walk. Then, a tragic accident: a crumpled fall onto Trinity Hall’s flagstones. Hawking is given only two years to live. Although he tries to shut the one who loves him out of his life, Jane takes the brave decision to stay with him for as long as they can. Love can defeat anything after all: a rather naïve concept but powerful enough to endure 30 years of marriage. A journey made of sacrifices but also rewards: “Look at what we made”, Stephen says to Jane in a touching scene in the film, as the couple proudly look at their three children.
It is clear that James Marsh and Anthony McCarten aimed at analysing the evolution of the relationship between Stephen and Jane Hawking, leaving the already-known theoretical aspect as an echo throughout the film. Little but effective details are what make every scene so alive: the viewer is sucked into a vortex of emotions, feeling part of this passionate love story. Indeed, the use of soft lights and bright colours play a key role in giving a glimpse of a dreamy and warm atmosphere as well as a stronger intensity to emphasise dark and dramatic scenes. No less important, the camera angles help build the connection with the audience. In fact, simple but expressive close-ups manage to capture the true intensity of an instant. Soft music in the background also accompanies the pictures of this puzzle of “space and time”, enhancing a sense of happiness and peace or suspense and agony.
Yet there is no doubt that what makes ‘The Theory of Everything’ such a marvellous film is the performances of its two leads: Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.
This is not the first time that Hawking’s story has been dramatized. Benedict Cumberbatch played the scientist in the 2004 BBC film ‘Hawking’. However, there is something remarkable about the way Redmayne transforms himself from a young, jaunty, healthy man to a contorted human forced to sit permanently in a wheelchair. He manages to embody every stage of the illness in a quite shocking and convincing way that sometimes it is possible to question whether he is the real Stephen Hawking. Mr Redmayne prepared for four months for this bravura performance. The sicker he gets, the more he conveys his pain and sorrow but at the same time, he also brings out Hawking’s incredible charisma and force of personality.
Felicity Jones’s performance is no less impressive. In her last movie, ‘The Invisible Woman’, this talented actress already showed her amazing qualities playing Charles Dickens’ lover but in this movie she undoubtedly manages to get into Jane Hawking’s life in a such vivid way. The initial sweet and innocent twinkle in her eyes when she first meets Stephen is eventually replaced by an exhausted and frustrated soul. Jones’s performance gives Jane’s character an incredible strength that makes this relationship so touching and inspiring. She never gave up on him even in the toughest times: from helping him to put on a sweater to finding new ways of letting him speak again.
‘The Theory of Everything’ is a beautiful must-see and the actors’ performances are not to be missed. However, a happily-ever-after ending is not guaranteed. In fact, there is a more significant and deeper lesson inside the journey of Stephen W. Hawking: life is never easy but everyone has the ability to adapt to change and succeed because “however bad life may seem, while there’s life, there’s hope!”
Here is the trailer