It’s all relative
The marriage of Stephen and Jane Hawking takes center stage in The Theory of Everything, director James Marsh’s sweet and powerful depiction of love in the face of adversity.
The film showcases the talents of Eddie Redmayne (Les Miserables), who gives a remarkable performance as Hawking, renowned physicist and eventual Pink Floyd vocalist. Redmayne depicts a relatively healthy Hawking at first, a slightly awkward but brilliant Cambridge student smitten with classmate Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones of Like Crazy). Redmayne transforms as the film progresses, slowly but surely depicting the physical deterioration of Hawking as he suffers from ALS.
Jones is equally powerful as Hawking’s first wife, a woman who refused to let him waste away after his diagnosis. The two marry knowing that the road ahead will be a rough one. Hawking’s initial prognosis had him living no more than two years, a prediction he has outlived by about 50 years.
The movie is a love story first, with Hawking’s musings about black holes and the origins of the universe taking a back seat. Redmayne and Jones are utterly convincing as the couple. Marsh treats their courtship in a magical, glimmering sort of way involving awkward school dances, followed by a memorable wedding sequence. The film unabashedly celebrates their romance.
If there’s a small beef with the movie, it’s that it feels a bit false in its portrayal of Stephen and Jane’s eventual separation after 25 years of marriage. Jane eventually winds up with Hawking caregiver and music teacher Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox), while Stephen goes off with his nurse, Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake), and it’s depicted in a very neat and tidy way. No jealous fits, no pain in the loss of the relationship. Stephen and Jane just sort of nod at each other, with Stephen acknowledging that “Jane needs help,” and they part ways as a couple.
For entertainment purposes, I’m OK with Marsh and screenwriter Anthony McCarten (who based his script on a Jane Hawking book) focusing on the fairytale element of Stephen and Jane’s coupling. They managed to stay together for quite a while, longer than many couples.
If the filmmakers had chosen to make this a movie about their true relationship struggles, I suppose it would’ve been a different movie altogether. There’s a palpable beauty and sweetness in the time they spent together, and that’s what the film stresses. It cops out a bit, but that doesn’t wind up being a deal killer. The movie stops when the two separate in 1990. For the true story of where they stand now and what happened in their new relationships, you must consult the Internet.
Seminal moments in the life of Hawking are covered, including the introduction of his computer-aided voice and electric wheelchair. It’s uncanny how accurately Redmayne captures that radiant Hawking smile. It’s a performance so good that you forget you are watching an actor portray somebody and not simply spying on the real guy.
While Redmayne surely has the showier role, Jones provides the emotional core of the film as Jane. Her work here is her best since her breakthrough performance in Like Crazy, although she did shine last year in The Invisible Woman. Both will probably find themselves in the running for an Oscar.
As biopics go, The Theory of Everything isn’t terribly introspective or revealing. It’s an idealistic love story involving an iconic figure, and it winds up being a very romantic one. Being that it stops nearly 25 years ago, a sequel involving Hawking’s second marriage and his cameo on Big Bang Theory would afford Redmayne a chance to revisit the role, right?
Yeah, that’s probably not going to happen.