Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars
To many people, Stephen Hawking has been so long physically associated with his wheel-chaired silhouette and computerized voice, that just seeing him as a young British student will come as the first of many revelations in The Theory of Everything. James Marsh’s film is remarkable insofar as it not only illuminates the very human story of the iconic astrophysicist, but also explores the unconventional relationship between young Hawking and first wife, Jane (Felicity Jones). It’s a fascinating story that’s additionally buoyed by an outstanding performance from Eddie Redmayne as Hawking.
At 21, Stephen Hawking was just beginning to unlock his theories regarding the universe, when he was given the devastating diagnosis of Motor Neuron Disease. The result of the disease would be Hawking’s total loss of his motor skills. He faced the nightmarish reality where his brilliant mind would no longer have a voice. Fortunately at this time, Stephen had begun a relationship with equally brilliant Jane Wilde. Wilde resolutely would not allow Hawking to give into his despair. That we’re still speaking of Hawking in the present tense, this film postulates, is as much down to Jane’s rejection of his two year prognosis as Hawking’s. Crucially, she pushed for the life-saving tracheotomy when doctors advised against it.
As Jane, Jones gives a magnetic performance. She imbues Wilde (later Hawking) with a steely resilience to the obstacles they face while displaying amazing vulnerability and chemistry with Redmayne. Particularly in moments where Stephen is struggling most.
Finally though, Redmayne, who always delivers solid supporting performances, is at last front and center. Physically, he runs the gamut from the first inklings of the disease—subtly playing moments of confusion—to the truly advanced stages where Redmayne must rely solely on harsh facial contortions and the vitality in his eyes. Beyond the uncanny physical resemblance, Redmayne also navigates a vast emotional journey from ambitious student, through the depression of his diagnosis and finally maturing into husband and father. If the film tends to give short-shrift to the scientific accolades Hawking received in his lifetime, it makes it up in spades by examining Hawking’s extraordinary personal relationships with sensitivity and respect.