Disability, genius, biopic. Released in the midst of award-season, The Theory of Everything is a perfectly solid work, feeling like an honest account of the life of Stephen Hawking and you can hardly say fairer than that. Eddie Redmayne’s resemblance is remarkable and his performance is physically well-observed and sometimes difficult to watch. Director James Marsh has made his name with documentary filming, namely with Man On Wire (perhaps my favourite documentary) and the also stellar,monkey-taming Project Nim, so perhaps it’s no great surprise that his primary focus remains on ensuring things are factually correct and that realism remains in tact.
What’s frustrating about The Theory of Everything is that’s it’s so conventional, about a man who is anything but, breaking boundaries in science, conquering agonising disability through sheer will power. The film spends a lot of focus on his relationship with his wife, which in itself was far from conventional, divorcing her to marry his nurse, no huge surprise considering his awareness of that her friendship with a choirmaster was not quite platonic. Everything is played a little safe and none of the themes are explored with the fullness they deserve. The nature of his genius, the trajectory of his career and how a healthy, buzzing brain fought back all obstacles are ideas incompletely explored. The film spends a substantial amount of time pondering his work’s relationship with religion, which really seems inconsequential as the answer has never seemed ambiguous to anyone but religious zealots. What The Theory of Everything could use is some energy, some flair. I couldn’t help but wonder what Darren Aronofsky, Danny Boyle, or even Edgar Wright would do with this extraordinary material. Imagine some close ups of blood cells, some visual representations of Hawking’s theories, time lapses and black hole illumination, enlightening some of the themes and ideas of this incredible life.
It is instead just functional. Emotionally involving to an extent, well acted and generally a fair portrayal of Hawking’s life. Yet I’m left thinking that this could be so much better as a more experimental, science fiction-infused biopic and thus you’re left disappointed by how safely it panders to a perceived audience.
Review by David Rank
The Theory of Everything is out now in the UK. Running time 123 mins. Certificate 12A (UK).