Writer: Anthony McCarten, Jane Hawking (book)
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, David Thewlis, Maxine Peake, Charlie Cox
Running time: 123mins
The lowdown: Eddie Redmayne delivers a stunning portrayal of world-acclaimed British physicist Stephen Hawking in this account of the relationship between Hawking, stricken with motor neurone disease while studying at Cambridge, and his wife Jane, (Felicity Jones). Expect Redmayne’s remarkable performance to be up for every acting award going.
The full verdict: Stephen Hawking is renowned for his irreverent wit almost as much as his pioneering work on black holes.
Shame then that Man on Wire director James Marsh has turned in a biopic so dutiful, coy and by the numbers. Take out the black hole stuff and this could be one of those achingly respectable period adaptations that play so well at award ceremonies, right down to the clip-friendly first kiss on a bridge against a backdrop of Cambridge cloisters.
Told as one giant flashback, Anthony McCarten’s script, based on Jane Hawking’s book, rarely deviates from the traditional “based on true events” model. Beginning with Hawking in his Cambridge PhD days, we get a sense of his insouciant brilliance before romance, tragedy (foreshadowed by hand trembles and stumbling), despair, triumph and that voice come along in tick box fashion.
Adding further soap to the story is strapping church choir leader Jonathan (Cox), much needed help for the family but whose presence means the religious Jane is torn between her extraordinary husband and the desire for a simpler life.
A decent stab is made at explaining Hawking’s theories, and the film fills in a few of the black holes for those scratching their heads at Interstellar. Ultimately though this is hamstrung in the same way as A Beautiful Mind – Hawking’s work is so cerebral it is difficult to convey it or his importance in a lightweight drama.
Lifting this out of total disappointment are faultless performances, particularly Jones as a woman both retiring and headstrong, Maxine Peake as Hawking’s carer Elaine and David Thewlis as his mentor and lifelong friend.
But, the film belongs to Eddie Redmayne. In this age of actor weight gain/loss and contorted thesping, Redmayne’s performance risks being taken for granted. Yet, the humour, frustration, warmth and brilliance of his subject shine through the locked body, making even a daytrip to the seaside a tear-jerking moment.
Shame that the film around him could not have been as impressive.