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Thursday 3 December 2020
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THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING: REVIEW

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING: REVIEW

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING: REVIEW –  James Marsh’s biopic takes a sappy dumb look at the life of an extraordinary genius.

What is it about Hollywood that just doesn’t get intelligence? It’s never quite so stupid as when it’s trying to be clever. Take this Oscar baiting, biographical picture of the astro-physicist Stephen Hawking, played by Eddie Redmayne. As with A Beautiful Mind, a scientific genius is understood only through his affliction (in this case motor neuron disease) and the self-sacrificing power of the love of a good woman, Jane played with toothsome determination by Felicity Jones.

They meet at Cambridge University – he a boffin with his spectacles ever askew, her an English rose of seemingly delicate bloom – and their love develops through wooden dialogue which has ‘scientist speak’ like ‘Love? How does that enter into my calculations?’ followed by fireworks and a crane shot. When disaster strikes and Stephen is diagnosed with an incurable degenerative disease and a life expectancy of just two years, Jane shows her mettle and the power of her love etc etc.

When Hawking’s Brief History of Time became a massive best-seller, it was fashionable to note that most people bought it but never read it and the film-makers appeared to have followed suit. Ron Howard got Russell Crowe to write on windows in a vain attempt to make mathematics visually interesting. Here, Hawking has a series of Eureka! moments via some visual cue. The boffins go to a Penrose lecture to hear a black hole described in a way that would bore a kindergarten with its simplicity. ‘Not even light escapes!’ – ‘Fascinating.’

Ultimately the film isn’t really about Hawking at all. It’s about Jane, based on her book and going along with many of the recent behind-every-great-man-is-a-great woman series of films: see The Girl with the Pearl Earring, The Invisible Woman and Hitchcock (actually don’t for the last one; it’s sh*t). This is to be applauded, but the film maker changes the narrative to make it more conventional and so her contribution actually less interesting. Where are the blazing rows which peppered the book?  What about the fact that the diagnosis came BEFORE the first date?

The performances are all to be praised and Eddie Redmayne in particular manages to make his Stephen Hawking a genuine character that goes beyond the contortions of his disease. Felicity Jones carries the burden of a screenplay that seems tilted forever towards making us pity and admire her, but she still manages to imbue Jane with dignity and occasional flashes of steel. There is a fascinating story here and this is not an awful film. It’s just if you are going to make a film about one of the biggest and most original minds of this last century, you’ve got to be a bit smart and a little bit less conventional.

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