"An extraordinarily transformative lead performance"
by remotegoat reviewer on 09/01/15

There was one little moment in 'The Theory Of Everything' that I really didn’t like – while on stage in his wheelchair, Stephen Hawkins imagines himself standing up, picking up a pencil off the floor and placing it on a table. It’s an odd fantasy sequence in a film that does so much to ground itself in the utmost reality, and I’m taken out of the moment. But why do I start this review straight off with a criticism? Because I figured I should probably note ONE criticism, considering that these thirty uncharacteristic seconds are preceded by two hours of exceptional cinema.

For those who don’t know, 'The Theory Of Everythin'g is the biopic of legendary physicist Stephen Hawking. Told chronologically starting with his time at Cambridge University, the film recounts both the young man’s rise to bona fide genius and the physical deterioration caused by Motor Neurone Disease. At the centre of it all is his wife Jane (who’s memoir the film is adapted from), the rock that meant Hawking never stopped fulfilling his potential. As much as the film is about Stephen and his extraordinary life, it is just as much about her extraordinary resolve. And, above all, it’s about the strength of their love (which is, yes, extraordinary).

I’ll admit, I had my doubts about the casting of this film. Both Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are undoubtedly very talented, but I wasn’t sure they could pull off such complex characters. Man, was I wrong! The two actors are astonishingly good, and have a fantastic chemistry on screen. Even their scenes as young lovers, before the tough stuff, is great. We really believe that they were made for each other, despite the obvious faith and science conflict, and it’s beautiful to watch. But it’s when that tough stuff starts, when Hawking begins to break down physically, that the chemistry is electric.

As Jane, Felicity Jones proves a revelation. Her transformation from sweet young girl to steely-souled wife is brilliant, as she battles to keep herself together. Even when she finally breaks, we don’t hate her – quite the opposite, in fact. Screenwriter Anthony McCarten makes sure to never paint her as a bad person – instead, she comes across as a woman who has reached the end of her tether, justifying her eventual decisions. Jones, to her credit, expresses that brilliantly. It’s what she doesn’t say that is most striking about her performance, with those tired eyes and awkward silences.

But let’s cut to the chase; the real star of this movie is Eddie Redmayne. I should probably explain why I didn’t like those thirty second at the end of the movie. Such is the magnificence of Redmayne’s transformation that I forget it’s him. At no point does it feel like I’m watching an actor play a role – this is Stephen Hawking – until he picks up the pencil and looks like Redmayne again. There is an everyman quality about Redmayne which makes him perfect for the character – yes, Hawking was a genius, but it never corrupted him. He was humble, charming, funny, innocent in his own way, and Redmayne captures that with his goofy grins and cheeky wry smiles. Even when he is at the point that he can’t talk or move his body, when almost everything has shut down, he never stops trying. There is a wonderful scene where he meets his new nurse (Maxine Peake in a small but excellent cameo), which is both laugh-out-loud funny and tragic at the same time. Hawking is a man who had to fight everything - literally death itself – to achieve his potential. And he does. When you look back on previous Oscar winners – Charlize Theron in 'Monster', for example – the awards lot like to see those physical transformations. Well, you might not get a better one than Eddie Redmayne this time round.

Kudos also needs to be given to director James Marsh. Well, he got those performance out of the leads, so the plaudits are obvious, but he also does wonders with a strong supporting cast that includes David Thewlis, Harry Lloyd and a really lively Charlie Cox (though Emily Watson, a personal favourite of mine, is in it for what seems like a cup of coffee!). But his method of direction is brilliant. The film’s style reflects Hawking’s state – the first third is a lot of quick cuts and moving shots, almost overemphasising the natural agility and physical prowess Hawking had. Then, once he is diagnosed, the cinematography changes. The camera moves closer to the characters, right up close to Hawking’s face and his body, almost unnervingly. It’s a great tool, solidly executed.

A word commonly being thrown about when people talk about this film is celebration. I wish I could be original and think of something else, but a celebration is exactly what 'The Theory Of Everything' is. A celebration of humanity, of faith, of science, of love, of life. The fact that Stephen Hawking is still alive today, after having been given just two years left to live, is a testament to his greatness. If you don’t want to watch it for how inspirational it is, though, just watch it for Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones’ transformative performances. They deserve it.

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