Stephen Hawking is one of those indelible figures of the 20th Century (and indeed the 21st), a person so renowned that even if you don’t know what he stands for or what he’s achieved then you know that he exists, like a Ghandi or Mother Teresa. However, behind the populous image is a real man, a real man and his wife, and that’s where this biopic focuses its attention; on the life that Professor Hawking, played with quite remarkable commitment by Eddie Redmayne, lived with his first wife Jane (Felicity Jones).
The Theory of Everything charts the struggle from just before Hawking was first diagnosed with motor neuron disease, through the lows resulting from the deterioration of his physical condition into the astronomical highs of the success and fame his work as a physicist brought him.
Behind every great man, the saying goes, is a great woman. And never was the case more so than with Hawking and Jane. Director James Marsh draws on his impressive documentarian background, weaving intelligently the facets of their life together as a couple and the more well known aspects of Hawking’s career; the incredible courageousness of Jane that allowed Stephen to work towards his best-selling book ‘A Brief History of Time’.
No relationship that stands the test of time is without its troubles and here they are obviously multiplied by Hawking’s physical condition and the inevitable strain that put on their family. Redmayne manages to not only embody Hawking physically, there are times when it really could be the Professor himself, so good is his performance, but also to humanise a man about whom not much is known beyond his academic achievements.
Although the story is heavily skewed towards Jane’s version of events – the screenplay being based on her book ‘Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen’ – then she is still painted, by the diminutive Jones, with a spectrum of colour and emotion; flawed but undeniably powerful and heroic in her determination to stick with Stephen no matter what the doctors or, indeed, he himself said. One particularly powerful scene sees Jane fighting to get Hawking to accept the necessity that he start using a wheel chair, a defining moment in his life from which he would never go back.
The Theory of Everything gives us a real, if slightly glossed, love story. No fairytale princesses or Hollywood happy endings here but real life; with all its complications, temptations, hardship and ultimately delivering a powerful documentation of what it is to be with someone else: sacrifice and compromise. Jane Hawking embodies a shining example of that sacrifice and gives us an inspirational true story of the human power of enduring love.
With awards season looming, the film is already gathering momentum with several Golden Globe nominations, quite rightly including Redmayne as best actor, no doubt giving an indication that he could, and arguably should, be in line come Oscars time. It’s worth reiterating that the physical commitment to his performance is quite simply staggering.
If you could put the BBC up on the silver screen then this is what you’d get: compelling, very well done and intrinsically British, The Theory of Everything doesn’t disappoint.