The Theory of Everything

December, 2014, Drama


British cosmologist Stephen Hawking’s remarkable life and contributions to our knowledge of the universe will find an even wider audience thanks to this story of his marriage to Jane Hawking, the author of the book upon which this film is based. Jane was a fellow student Hawking met while both were at Cambridge in the early 1960’s, shortly before he was diagnosed with a motor neuron disease closely related to the condition named after the famed New York Yankee baseball player Lou Gehrig. Despite the physical challenges his medical condition presented the two were marred and raised 3 children before divorcing nearly 30 years later so that each could remarry partners that had long been involved in the 24/7 care Hawking’s has required for most of his adult life.

Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, British thespians with extensive experience in Masterpiece Theater-style English television programming, lead the cast. Both have garnered justifiable praise for their work, especially Redmayne who’s being touted as a strong contender for an Oscar. His impish grin and luminous, piercing eyes are employed to excellent effect by Director James Marsh and the film does an extremely effective job of depicting the severity of Hawkins’ illness and the indomitable will both he and his first wife exhibited in dealing with it.

 Screenwriter Anthony McCarten’s adaptation provides just the right amount understated take on this marriage, evenly balancing Hawkins’ refusal to give up on himself with Jane’s determination to be a strong-willed individual who took on what turned out to be a nearly life-long task.

 That said, Redmayne’s performance will be inevitably compared with that of Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot some 25 years ago. Fans of the latter will argue that Redmayne’s performance, nuanced as it is, remains no match for that of his countryman. And the screenplay may account for the diminution of Jones’ initial attractiveness as she gradually grows evermore submerged in her role as caregiver, increasingly resentful of the loss of her own identity as she struggles to balance her husband’s needs with her own aspirations for a balanced, productive life.

 All this leads casts a sugarplum ending to a marriage that ultimately failed both parties and it would take a careful reading of the book upon which it was based to determine whether the movie is an accurate reflection of these matrimonial dynamics. At the end of the day, this is a romantic drama, not a biographical examination and audiences will bring much of their own predispositions to it.

 The Verdict?  A romanticized examination of an extremely interesting marriage. It this wasn’t exactly the way things really were…they should have been.

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