The Theory of Everything is a sublime way to be remembered. The story of Professor Stephen Hawking has at last been told through the art of biographical filmmaking, and he has been both cast and performed so flawlessly that we might as well have been observing actual footage of the actual scientist. This is, by far, some of the best acting I have ever beheld.
This movie, while flawed in a number of ways, is still good enough to be great thanks solely to how tremendous the performances are, especially that of Eddie Redmayne. The fact that it also looks gorgeous is another thing that more than makes up for its occasionally dragged-out moments and, of course, its artistic liberties with the source material and true story of Hawking.
Directed by James Marsh, the film follows Hawking (Redmayne) from his time as an odd but funny Cambridge student that his teachers and friends deemed somewhat lazy, to his time as one of the most celebrated physicists and cosmologists of all time, but without the ability of speech or movement. The film shows him meet his first wife Jane Wilde Hawking (Felicity Jones), who wrote the book on which the screenplay is based, and continue to develop his revolutionary theory about the true beginnings of the Universe itself, even as he falls victim to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and soon becomes the wheelchair-bound, computer-voiced scientist most people recognize him as today, defying the life expectancy of his motor neuron disease in the process.
Stephen’s friends and loved ones, besides Jane, include his parents (Emily Watson and Guy-Oliver Watts), his old teacher and mentor Dennis Sciama (David Thewlis), his second wife Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake), Jane’s second husband and temporary helper at the Hawking residence Jonathan (Charlie Cox), and Stephen’s best university mate Brian (Harry Lloyd). Oh, and his children of course; he explains that the disability doesn’t affect his capacity to create those, as the required functions are “automatic”. He’s always had a sense of humour, that Hawking.Obviously, several things in the movie don’t match up with the real-life events. In the film, his separation from Jane and subsequent reconciling with her happens right before he gets his “almost knighthood” at Buckingham Palace. In real life, he reconciled with Jane well after he went to Buckingham Palace and had divorced Elaine. He also started working on his book, A Brief History of Time, before he lost the ability to speak, whereas the movie makes it seem as though his speech loss is what motivated him to pen it. I went to see both this film and The Imitation Game with my dad, and since he knows more of Alan Turing’s life story than me and I know a little more about Hawking’s (even if dad is the one of us who’s actually read A Brief History of Time), we pretty much helped each other out when it came to knowing just how accurate both of these “true story” films really are.
Most of the changes were made for the sake of a better narrative flow, so it is forgivable. Although I don’t know why they omitted the “translator” Hawking had at one point, specifically at a time when all he could do was make vague noises which his translating assistant could somehow understand. In the movie, he goes from slurred speech to no speech instantly. I suppose you can’t win ’em all.
But, as stated, it is Redmayne’s fantastic portrayal of Hawking that sells the entire movie. Once again, what a performance this is! Redmayne nails the devolving speech ability, broken body language and facial twitches of Hawking with such precision that you truly feel as though you’re watching a real man lose his mobility and voice to ALS. The scenes that depict Hawking’s withering health are so well-done and devastating to watch that I was reminded of Life Itself, where we saw similar things happen to Roger Ebert, and that was a documentary, so that stuff was really happening! It takes a truly magnificent piece of acting to make something feel so real and, as a result, heartbreaking.
Felicity Jones plays a terrific female lead (even if I wasn’t always fond of her character and occasional rants about how her husband is neglecting the notion of God) and there are also some good supporting actors. Not all of them are great, but I’d say enough of them are. The true heart of the film – Hawking himself and the way he maintains his hopefulness and witty sense of humour in such bleak times – works either way. My one legitimate problem with The Theory of Everything is that, again, some parts drag. That and some montages that are supposed to look like Super 8 footage but look a little too, I dunno, HD and widescreen. Even so, it gets right what it needs to get right, and therefore I award it my highest rating!
In summary, the movie is splendidly acted, gorgeously shot throughout and beautifully scored. I’m giving it a 5/5 and my official vote for Eddie Redmayne as Best Actor at the Oscars this year. I don’t know if the Academy will let him win but I’ve certainly found my winner.