THE STORY – In the 1960s, Cambridge University student and future physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) falls in love with fellow collegian Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). At 21, Hawking learns that he has motor neuron disease. Despite this — and with Jane at his side — he begins an ambitious study of time, of which he has very little left, according to his doctor. He and Jane defy terrible odds and break new ground in the fields of medicine and science, achieving more than either could hope to imagine.
THE CAST – Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, Emily Watson, Simon McBurney, David Thewlis & Maxine Peake
THE TEAM – James Marsh (Director) & Anthony McCarten (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 123 Minutes
By Nicole Ackman
It’s clear that most people who have seen “The Theory of Everything” came away from it talking about Eddie Redmayne’s impressive performance as theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. It’s less clear if the rest of the film – which is part biopic, part romantic drama – lives up to the stellar performances by both Redmayne and Felicity Jones. Directed by James Marsh, the film is centered around Hawking and his wife’s relationship as he develops his theories and battles ALS.
Anthony McCarten adapted Jane Hawking’s memoir, originally published in 1999 titled “Music to Move the Stars” and updated in 2007 under the name “Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen,” for the screen. The film begins in the early 1960s at the University of Cambridge where Stephen and Jane meet and quickly fall in love, just before he is diagnosed with motor neuron disease, more popularly known as ALS. We see Stephen make his scientific breakthroughs even as he loses control over his body and eventually even loses his ability to speak.
More poignantly, we see the effect it has on his relationship with his wife as she attempts to balance taking care of him and their children with her own academic work and reconcile her strong faith with his lack of religious beliefs. While this makes for a strong emotional heart, it almost seems to come at the expense of any sense of his actual theories and the importance of his work. It’s somewhat difficult to grasp why his work is such a big deal or so impressive from the film alone. It certainly takes some creative liberties in its portrayal of the couple’s lives, though both Jane and Stephen were involved with the production and met the actors playing them.
Much of the film is set at the University of Cambridge and many outdoor scenes were filmed there. Early in the film, we see Stephen and friends biking through the streets and rowing in the river, and the famous Bridge of Sighs is in several shots. Being shot partially on location lends an authenticity to the film. If Redmayne seems totally at home on the campus, it’s perhaps because he attended Cambridge (Jones went to its rival, Oxford).
It’s easy to see why Redmayne won the Academy Award for Best Actor as this role is his best work. The physical transformation he undergoes throughout the film is even more remarkable when thinking about the fact that films aren’t shot in chronological order, meaning he had to remember the physicality that went with each timeframe seen in the film. Redmayne studied old interview footage of Hawking to be able to recreate his way of speaking and mannerisms, but what is most impressive is how even when the character has limited mobility, Redmayne continues to act with his eyes.
While her performance is naturally less showy, Jones is a perfect partner to Redmayne and creates a beautiful arc for Jane. She’s completely charming in the role and very believable as a pure-hearted young academic. She has several moving scenes which she absolutely nails and is able to bring across much emotion while still being appropriately restrained to fit the character. The scene in which Jane speaks with Stephen’s father about the future ahead of them as a couple is a great example of subtle but effective acting. Jones also has a gorgeous array of costumes and hairstyles that help the audience mark the passage of time as styles change over the decades.
The film has an impressive cast of supporting actors, many of whom are underutilized including Emily Watson, Harry Lloyd, and David Thewlis. Charlie Cox gives a beautiful performance full of restrained yearning as the Hawkings’ family friend and Jane’s second husband, Jonathan Jones. Another great element of the film is Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score which does a great job of heightening emotional moments.
The film suffers from a handful of questionable cinematography choices that detract from the story it’s telling. This includes some scenes being washed in a specific color (some blue, some red, even one green) without any apparent reason or meaning. While there are also nice moments of camera work, like a few times where the audience can see from Stephen’s perspective as he watches people do normal tasks that he no longer can, it also has some Tom Hooper-esque close-ups.
“The Theory of Everything” was nominated for five Academy Awards and four Golden Globes, with Redmayne winning the award for Best Actor at both. While it’s certainly not a masterpiece, it’s a solid film. It’s to its benefit that it manages to inject small moments of humor and has a generally positive tone. It’s fortunate that the film was made when it was, as the actors and creatives could consult with Hawking (he passed away four years later in 2018). While “The Theory of Everything” doesn’t fully demonstrate the importance of Hawking and his work, Redmayne and Jones’ performances are a beautiful tribute to the couple the film is about.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Fantastic performances from Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, and Charlie Cox in a touching film with lovely costume and production design.