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The Theory Of Everything

Winner - 2014 BAFTA and Academy Awards for Best Actor (Eddie Redmayne)

In The Theory Of Everything, we first see Stephen Hawking (played by Eddie Redmayne) as a grinning postgraduate in early 1960s Cambridge, whizzing on his bicycle over the cobbles to a party. It’s here he meets Jane (Felicity Jones), a foreign languages undergrad who shares his intellectual curiosity. Before long she’s had Sunday roast with Stephen’s parents and the pair are discussing astrophysics beneath the stars at the May Ball. 

Poster art for The Theory Of EverythingThen, at age 21, comes Hawking’s terrible diagnosis: motor neuron disease, meaning his muscles will progressively waste and he most likely has only a couple of years to live. Hawking asks if his brain will still function. Oh yes, replies the doctor – except no one will know what you’re thinking.

The physical decline runs in parallel to Hawking’s personal and professional successes: bestsellers and academic acclaim, getting as close as anyone ever has to the meaning of life – as well as three children and many years of happiness with determined, devoted Jane.

The choice of source material, a memoir written by Jane, had led some to wonder if the decks might be stacked in her favour when it came to the treatment of their eventual separation. But this is a film of scrupulous ethics and fresh-scrubbed compassion. It’s true there’s something slightly predatory about the nurse (Maxine Peake) who comes between them, but by and large the film handles its emotions with the same careful consideration as its math.

It stands or falls, of course, on its central performance. Redmayne towers: this is an astonishing, genuinely visceral performance which bears comparison with Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot. His Hawking starts askew – the glasses, maybe the shoulders a touch – and over the course of two hours contorts and buckles into a figure at once instantly familiar and fresh. This is more than just skilful impersonation – it’s inhabitation. To look on as his face and body distort is to feel discomforted, even queasy.

The film’s emotional punch, however, comes from the trauma the disease wreaks on Hawking as one half of a couple. It manages that rare thing in any movie, least of all a well-upholstered biopic, and that is a realistic relationship, with grace notes, and a bedrock of respect and affection. Jones makes for a formidable opposite number; she’s a consistently brilliant actor who needs a breakthrough.

Perhaps this may prove to be the movie. Though Redmayne will deservedly scoop up a great swagbag of awards, Jones shouldn’t go home empty-handed. One beautifully underplayed scene between the two near the end hits with such choking force the viewer is left almost giddy.

It’s a film to leave you reeling but cheered, too. It’s about battling love, as well as illness. A universal story, extracted from a unique one.

– Catherine Shoard, The Guardian

Nominated for 5 Oscars: Best Picture of 2014, plus Best Actor (Redmayne), Actress (Jones), Adapted Screenplay, Original Score 
 

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