When famed documentarian, Marsh (Man on Wire), took on the biography of one of the most unique and celebrated scientists of the last couple centuries, the result was definitely going to be examined. There were numerous paths to focus on given Hawking’s life and accomplishments and, of course, the risk of being overly polite since he and his family are still around. Whether to tackle it directly, as a documentary, or dramatically, must have been an interesting conversation. It could have gone either way in his hands, but the dramatic approach provided better avenues for expression.
Redmayne (My Week with Marilyn, Les Miserable) is every bit as amazing as you may have heard in this role. Even Hawking has said he thought he was watching himself at times up on the screen. There is no question why Redmayne is up for multiple best actor awards this year; deservedly so. It goes beyond the craft of the physicality. He gives you both the man and the scientist. And, with Marsh’s help, lets you see the mind trapped in the broken body.
Opposite him, Jones (The Amazing Spider-Man, The Worricker Trilogy) plays the complex role of Jane, who both loves and is devoted to him, but ultimately is trapped by her own choices and assumptions. The movie is, in fact, based on her biographical account of their lives together, not Stephen’s. It allowed for a very interesting perspective to hold sway.
McCarten’s script is full of humor and drama. It manages to stay nonjudgmental while still feeling honest. It also takes us on a believable, multi-decade journey with the two characters. We watch their relationship bloom and then struggle with the realities of the situation.
If I had any concerns with either script or direction it was near the end during one of the last lecture scenes. I cannot decide if it was a wonderful device to let us see the inner-workings of a mind or simply catering to the assumed lowest common denominator audiences. It certainly didn’t frame well with its mirror scene much earlier on. The moment was really mere distraction for me, but it really felt out of place.
As both biography and story the film holds up well. It is uplifting without being saccharine. It has humor and revelation. It is filmed with love and an artistic hand. If you haven’t yet, you will be hearing a lot more about it over the remaining months of awards season. And, more importantly, you should spend the time to see it, to be reminded that anything is possible, that love transcends most issues, that the universe is a truly amazing place, and that being wrong is really just part of the process in life and in science.