REVIEW: The Theory of Everything | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Director: James Marsh
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones,
Run Time: 123 minutes
Certificate: 12A

Two hours is too short a time to sum up the full intricacies of a couple’s relationship. Add to the equation the small matter of one being the world’s most eminent physicist, and the script being based on the other’s personal memoirs, and the stars align for The Theory of Everything to never fully satisfy.

The marriage between Stephen Hawking and first wife Jane Wilde (career-defining turns from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones) is a flawed love story; we know from the off that a major stumbling block – Hawking’s Motor Neurone Disease and a two-years-to-live prognosis – is excruciatingly inevitable. Director James Marsh has previous form deconstructing a powerful real-life story; his 2008 documentary Man On Wire won an Academy Award, which is itself being turned into a high-budget drama. Poetic licence sets the adoring student lovebirds against the romantic backdrops of firework displays and a picture postcard version of 1960s Cambridge.

Exceedingly British, the film’s characters, when faced with life-shattering dilemmas, request a cup of tea or suggest a family member sign up for the local church choir. For the story of a man famously robbed of the power of speech, the story is appropriately as much about what goes unsaid. Tensions bubble away at garden parties with the in-laws and over dinner. At one point, a deteriorating Hawking sneaks off from a party held in celebration of his doctorate and crawls upstairs, too proud to ask for help. Jane, likewise, is the very model of stiff upper-lipped poise, for decades prevented from achieving her full potential, duty-bound to remain tethered as Professor Hawking’s wife and the mother to his children. She’s cut from the same cloth as Keira Knightley’s prim-and-proper Joan Clarke in The Imitation Game, albeit much less a cipher for the audience’s expected adulation of “her man.”

the theory of everything 2

Throughout, the nagging feeling remains that we’re only experiencing a story half-told

A lot has been written about the two leads; needless to say they’re fantastic as the increasingly troubled husband and wife desperately trying to do things right. The film is based on Wilde’s self-penned recollections (albeit her more measured 2008 edition, Travelling to Infinity), yet the narrative’s favour remains impressively balanced. Jones’ is an incredible performance of a strong woman spreading herself increasingly thin, while Redmayne’s Hawking retains his mischievous humour, even after losing control of the muscles in his face (“Exterminate!” he squawks, testing out his new voice tech). In the film’s latter portion, Redmayne is altogether unrecognisable from the dashing figure he cut in Les Miserables and even the dorky wordsmith at the beginning of the film. The rest of the cast should not be overlooked; Charlie Cox excels as the third wheel (no pun intended) in Hawking and Wilde’s strained relationship.

Yet throughout, the nagging feeling remains that we’re only experiencing a story half-told. Minimal insight is given, for example, into the impetus behind Hawking’s chosen career path and the couple’s conflicting interpretations of God are touched upon but frustratingly underdeveloped. It all feels a little too polished, a little too romantic for a love story ultimately lacking in a conventional emotional pay-off. Then again, one might argue, real life is never so straightforward…. the universe is so much more complicated than that.

The Theory of Everything is currently showing at the Tyneside Cinema.

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