When the film started, I could have sworn I was watching A Beautiful Mind. The same jolly-hockey sticking, bicycle-racing through the university despite elegant attire and good-natured chummy, plummy rivalry, the innocent and honest pursuits of great minds both at play and at work. I’ll admit, I was often left asking questions about the early story of premier physicist and mathematician Stephen Hawking, like would he really have had the nerve to approach someone like Jane and strike up a conversation with her in the first place? Would his limited charm have worked so well? Would you buy a house with stairs if you already knew the likelihood you weren’t going to able to walk up and down them before long was not great? So yes, pedantic inconsistencies, but this a biopic, so the answers to all of those questions are pretty much on the screen in front of you.
There is a lovely aside with both Jane and Stephen realising they appreciate their own form of time travel (if you could live in any period of history? – private joke), but really, does this not all seem a little too astounding to be believed? Hawking is both a medical and intellectual conundrum, so maybe that’s what makes the impossible seem so almost every day normal? Perhaps you can call me a grizzled old cynic, but watching Redmayne playing croquet still brought a tear to my eye within the first half hour, albeit this was as much from Jones’ performance and the frankly outstanding score. Nevertheless, despite my initial misgivings, I had still walked into this early screening with Oscar nominations on my mind, so were these little foibles going to assuage my opening enthusiasm?
First thing to be aware of, should you be planning on seeing this when it is released to the unsuspecting public, is that there is relatively little science involved. This may cheer some and depress others. This is as much a tale of the trials of relationships, far less than coping either with notoriety, fame or even physical disablement. Little is made of any of these things, which is surprising as a biopic you might reasonably be expecting the greater stodge of story-telling to address what would have appeared to have been those defining points in Hawking’s life.
When you understand or realise that this script is based on Jane Hawking’s own book about living with the great man of physics, then it begins to make slightly more sense. The book is no thicker than the film with scientific pursuits, as Jane was/is more focused on artistic endeavors, such as the history of Spanish poetry that we are told of, despite not really needing to know for any other reasons than narcissistic (but still polite) shouting that ‘I do exist as well, you know!” or “He may have been the most brilliant man on the planet, but I still had to wipe his bum.” So, in this regard, the more sciency-less artsy amongst us might just see some of this as a little, well dare I say it, selfish.
But it is no less a story for that fact. It is no less compelling or engaging. The performances by the two main players, Redmayne and Jones, are both excellent, with the former bordering on outstanding and will truly deserve all of the awards nominations that are undoubtedly coming his way. Support too most notably from Thewlis, Peake and husband-in-waiting Charlie Cox (Jonathan) do themselves no harm at all and add to an authentic piece taken from one very distinctive point of view. I say this with caution, as the origin of this tale is far from ambivalent or emotionally neutral, painting a picture of domestic determination in spite of the odds from a perspective you might not immediately expect or appreciate. In short, we are being delivered a version of events that may be described as unilateral and as such, potentially flawed, through the inevitable vagaries of emotional investment. Again, less of the science is evident not only in the story itself, but also it’s realisation. A little picky though it may be, it strikes this reviewer that this paints a rather positive glow on some negative elements featured of the lives of our main protagonists.
Notwithstanding, this is a beautifully polished production, with excellent performances and almost huggable direction. You can feel the warmth throughout the two hour running time and it rarely wades in anything too negative to bring the viewer down from the regular joys it throws up, leaving me close to tears on three separate occasions, and if it can get me all sniffly with ‘just something in my eye’, then it must be doing something right. Great script, occasionally funny, a beautiful score from Jóhann Johannsson and deft cinematography from Benoit Delhomme make this a very satisfying Oscar hopeful that ticks all of the boxes that the Academy will be looking for. Recommended.