The Theory of Everything

Review by Simran Hans @heavier_things

Directed by

James Marsh

Starring

Eddie Redmayne Felicity Jones Tom Prior

Anticipation.

Another biopic about a clever posh bloke. Yawn.

Enjoyment.

Benedict who?

In Retrospect.

Redmayne and Jones prove that marriage is just as absorbing (and perplexing) as quantum physics.

Love is the key in this stylish, slightly fusty rendering of the courtship between Stephen Hawking and his first wife, Jane.

Stephen Hawking may be famous for his work as a cosmologist and theoretical physicist, but James Marsh’s glossy biopic is rooted in more earthly concerns. Based on his once-wife Jane Hawking’s 2008 memoir ‘Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen’, The Theory of Everything is first and foremost a love story.

Jane (Felicity Jones), an Anna Karina-esque beauty preparing for her PhD in medieval poetry, and Stephen (Eddie Redmayne), lanky, brilliant and bespectacled, bond instantly. Despite their fundamental difference of opinion regarding the matter of faith (Hawking describes cosmology as “a religion for intelligent atheists”), the pair spend their free time cavorting about the Cambridge University campus, swooning on bridges and flirting underneath firework displays. That is until Stephen takes a nasty tumble, hitting his head on the concrete with a sickeningly visceral crack. It is revealed that Stephen has motor neurone disease, a debilitating physical condition that guarantees him just two years to live.

While we know that Hawking lives well beyond those two years (at time of writing he is 72), Jane does not, and so the two hastily tie the knot. What follows is not an insight into the mind of a rare genius but instead a rare glimpse into a bittersweet marriage where communication is both complicated and key. Jones brings a steely resolve to Jane, who serves as the backbone of the family, and an ever-expanding one at that; Marsh takes great pains to point out that Stephen’s baby-making faculties are fully-functioning. Yet this is Redmayne’s film, a star vehicle that offers him the opportunity to showcase his technical prowess as an actor. From Stephen’s deteriorating mobility to his eventual inability to speak, his performance is physical and precise, but never patronising.

The Theory of Everything is certainly more emptily stylish than it perhaps needed to be, painting the already-idyllic Cambridge in varying hues of cool, smokey blue and inserting ‘home videos’ of Hawking and family as snippets shot on Super8. Marsh also draws visual links between the minutiae of Earth and the magnitude of outer space, using concentric circles to connect coffee cups with quantum physics in a gentle bid to reconcile Jane’s creationism with Stephen’s science. These directorial flourishes prevent the film from feeling fusty, perhaps necessary given its investment in straight-laced Britishness. There is an eye roll-inducing smugness to lines like “Can you whip some Wagner on?” (delivered with decidedly plummy aplomb) – a saleable Englishness that seems to have been tailor-made to be exported to Americans.

One suspects that The Theory of Everything has the potential to do what The King’s Speech did before it during awards season, given its prestige production values and sentimental source material. There are reasons why it should; Redmayne, Jones, DoP Benoit Delhomme’s eye for colour and texture; and reasons why it shouldn’t; occasional lurches into melodrama by way of Johan Johansson’s overbearing score, a cloyingly hopeful concluding speech. Mostly though — and mostly thanks to Redmayne — the film manages to evade mawkishness. Offering wry relief in the form of Hawking’s trademark self-deprecating humour, it’s no wonder that Marsh decides to trade in matters of the heart, not the head.

Published 1 Jan 2015

Anticipation.

Another biopic about a clever posh bloke. Yawn.

Enjoyment.

Benedict who?

In Retrospect.

Redmayne and Jones prove that marriage is just as absorbing (and perplexing) as quantum physics.

Read More

The Danish Girl

By David Ehrlich

Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander prove a perfect match in this tender transgender drama.

review LWLies Recommends

A Serious Man

By James King

A low-key yarn from the Coen brothers that breaks its confines to deliver big.

review LWLies Recommends

45 Years

By Sophie Monks Kaufman

Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are on top form in Andrew Haigh’s devastating relationship drama.

review LWLies Recommends

What are you looking for?

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.

Editorial

Design