For a man who enjoys chess this much, Stephen Hawking apparently threw around a lot of chess boards in his early days…
“The Theory of Everything” is the Stephen Hawking biopic, directed by James Marsh, starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. Saying this film is a Stephen Hawking biopic doesn’t really do it justice though. More than on his struggles with Lou-Gherick’s disease or his scientific work, “The Theory of Everything” focuses on his first marriage to Jane Wilde, played by Felicity Jones. The film is also based on her book "Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen Hawking". Thus, Redmayne and Jones share equal amounts of screentime and we see both of their stories unfolding at the same time.
The two lead performances are amazing. Felicity Jones plays a woman who, when Hawking is diagnosed, is given the chance to bow out but doesn’t. She stays with him, against the doubts of his family and against Stephen’s initial will. She is a strong woman, but she also gets tested more than most human beings. Where Hawking is the brilliant scientist, she is a devout member of the Church of England. This and many other things weigh on her marriage and Jones portrays the hard work that is her life and the effect it has on her admirably. Eddie Redmayne on the other hand has a much more physical role. The movie opens with Stephen Hawking in his wheelchair, playing with his children, but then moves back in time (just as Hawking did in his work) to his early days, racing his friend Brian on a bike. However, at no point in this movie is he not affected by his disease. Early scenes show him slowly losing control over his hands and the film never pretends that this is just clumsiness. However, his disease is only put into focus when it is absolutely necessary, for example at his first diagnosis. Everything else rests mostly on Redmayne’s shoulders. He goes from slightly shuffling to using a cane to not being able to climb the stairs and finally to the wheelchair. It is an extremely demanding performance and it’s probably going to prove almost impossible for Redmayne to top it in his future career. He deserves his Academy Award nomination and so does Jones.
The movie really lives from those two performances, but it is also well-directed and beautifully shot. The story offers a unique look into the life of arguably one of the greatest person in human history and his family. At times it isn’t exactly comfortable to watch, but the film manages to find a heartfelt approach to all stages in Hawking’s life and manages to insert some good laughs here and there. Look out for a reference to a popular British TV-series in particular.
Overall, this is a must-watch for the two lead performances alone, especially since the Oscars are coming up fast. Also, while it certainly isn’t easy fare, it is preferable to emptying a bucket of ice over your head to raise your awareness for ALS.