Awards season is about to explode in earnest, and we have a strong contender with the Stephen Hawking bio pic The Theory of Everything. The film was inspired byJane Wild-Hawking’s memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, which chronicled their lives together, and the film features tremendous performances by its two leads and some sharp direction by James Marsh that elevates the material that was on the page.
Eddie Redmayne (Les Misérables) delivers a revelatory performance as young Stephen Hawking as he comes into his own studying at Cambridge, meets the love of his life, and is terrifyingly diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Redmayne instantly shot up to the top of my list of Best Actor contenders with a portrayal that is transformative in every sense of the word. When a sequence near the end does a rewind of the events of film, it really hammers home just how fantastic this performance comes across as you forget how young and wide-eyed Hawking started out.
Felicity Jones (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) is given the harder workload (which is saying a lot) as Jane Wilde, but also still manages to really shine. The romance between Hawking and Wilde is adorable and intoxicating in the early stages of their lives. Jones is strong, endearing and lovably sincere as her character quickly begins to fall for Hawking. Things get tricky when the relationship starts to deteriorate later in the film, but elements of the story that could have painted the character in a more negative light are deftly handled by the direction and Jones’s admirable portrayal.
But for those worried that this is a sad or depressing film due to the illness and the hardships dealt to the characters, it most certainly is not. The Theory of Everything is an affirmation of life and the hope that just being alive can and should bring. Redmayne’s performance as Hawking is almost always smiling, happy and upbeat even with the darkest of circumstances. Audiences should leave the theater feeling inspired, rather than drained from a traumatic story.
On that note, one of the minor shortcomings of the film is that it occasionally tries too hard to be a storybook inspirational film, and you get the feeling the filmmakers are glossing over quite a few things to avoid bringing down the overall vibe. While this is probably a wise decision, it felt a bit too heavy-handed for me at times.
The supporting cast has some fine British actors rounding out much smaller roles, bringing a bit of their wit and charm. Most notably is David Thewlis (Professor Lupin in the Harry Potter films) as longtime colleague and friend Dennis Sciama, who brings warmth and a bit of humor to the story. I also really enjoyed Harry Lloyd (Game of Thrones) as Hawking’s uncouth best friend at Cambridge named Bryan.
The performances by the two leads in this film should definitely garner awards consideration and The Theory of Everything’s story is an important one for our current place in history, as Hawking is one of our most brilliant minds with an incredible life. Marsh’s slick direction and beautiful visualization of Hawking’s genius and his life-changing romance make the story really pop off the screen. The Theory of Everything is a love story for the modern thinking man that does justice to one of the most influential figures in our times.