Biopics are difficult to get right. If somebody has lived a life that warrants the big screen treatment, how do you condense that into a three act structure? What ‘bits’ do you focus on and what do you leave out? These are the usual problems that plague the genre, yet each year, with every award season, comes a number of films based on the lives of musicians, actors, athletes and politicians. Stephen Hawking, one of the remaining living icons of our generation, is the latest public figure to have a film made about his life in The Theory of Everything; a biopic that, for the most part, manages to avoid the issues that go hand in hand with this type of picture. Choosing to focus on his relationship with his wife Jane, the film opens with Hawking during his studies at Cambridge university, where he first crosses paths with her. As this is also the time where Hawking’s Motor Neurone Disease began to take a hold of him, this feels like a natural starting point for his story, one that in real life is equally as inspirational and tragic.
The Theory Of Everything has that quality to it, filled with Richard Curtis-type romanticism (fireworks and all) that is counteracted with heartbreak. Stephen Hawking’s sense of humour (which those who have met him will vouch for) is also there, but through the tears and frustrations of his disease. This means the film is very human and very honest, especially in its depiction of the two central ‘characters’, Jane and Stephen, whose best intentions and slightly naive determination to stay together, ultimately suffers through his illness. Whilst The Theory Of Everything does get the drama right, what I would have liked to have seen is more creative flair in the way it was handled. Just because you are making a biopic, doesn’t mean that you can’t think outside the box in terms of presenting the subjects story and considering Hawking’s life revolves around time and space, I think an opportunity has been missed in the way his story has been presented to us. There are moments of visual style throughout, but they are too few and far between to truly make the film stand out as remarkable or memorable.
The biggest thing you’ll take away from the film are the excellent performances from the two leads, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. Playing Stephen Hawking is no easy task and obviously requires a physicality that most actors would struggle to achieve with such believability that Redmayne does. His performance is truly transformative to the point where you’ll actually think at times that Hawking himself is on screen, so talented an actor he is. That said, in the shadow of his turn as Hawking, it is quite easy to overlook Jones who is equally as impressive. What’s required of her in this is essentially the opposite of Redmayne, putting in a much more reserved and nuanced performance, with the slightest facial movement speaking volumes. It’s these two superb pieces of acting that make The Theory Of Everything suitable for the cinema. Otherwise, it is borderline televisual, offering very little visual or narrative creativity to Hawking’s story. The film trots along at a good pace, has interesting characters and does a good job of highlighting the mathematics and science in Stephen’s life, as well as the personal side of things. It’s perfectly fine entertainment, but nothing really more than that, never quite succeeding at being quite as good as the film’s central performances.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com