Stephen Hawking, a promising Physics and Cosmology student at Cambridge, at the age of twenty one starts to succumb to early onset Motor Neurone (aka ALS), a muscle wasting disease.
Despite his considerable physical decline he marries and eventually continues his work. He becomes ever more famous and world renowned for his theories on black holes, quantum gravity/mechanics and hugely popular books. These include “A Brief History of Time”, conveying highly complex ideas and theories into a semi-readable format, quite literally the “Big Bang Theory” minus Sheldon and catchy theme tune.
Eventually, he becomes confined to a wheelchair with no ability to speak other than through a computer programme. A voice now so synonymous with Hawking, it features on “The Simpsons”, the ultimate accolade.
This is a story waiting to be told but requires a consummate and committed actor to portray this well known, severely physically disabled, yet still very much living character. Fortunately Eddie Redmayne, is on impressive form, completely inhabiting the role and deserving a best actor Oscar nomination.
The film is based on the book from Hawking’s first wife “Jane” (Felicity Jones). Understandably the excellent screenplay takes pains to point out the extraordinary success Hawking enjoys was hard won, by himself but also his family and dedication of his wife.
The film covers the pairs tentative early meetings before the disease takes hold, then the subsequent trials and tribulations as his fame increases, ironically mirroring his gradual physical deterioration. The audience has the benefit of Jane, who simplifies the theories of his complex work into occasional simple vegetable metaphors for our benefit.
You will not see finer acting this year, both lead characters are exemplary without appearing to “act”. Redmayne has the more showy role but is believably supported by another Oscar nominated performance by Jones. The film delves enough into the reality of a life so physically affected but does not dwell too heavily on day to day difficulties, which might make for an uncomfortable watch.
The glories bestowed upon Hawking come at a cost which others must pay at some considerable expense, this is hinted at but never spoken of directly in the film. As the light shines brighter upon him, this casts an ever longer shadow on those standing behind. Accusations of selfishness might be unworthy to attribute but later developments perhaps emphasise the possibility. There is a feeling that the story has seen some necessary “smoothing of edges”, to make the tale as palatable as possible.
As the film progresses, the impact upon the family becomes all to obvious, sacrifices become harder to bear as the initial two year life expectancy extends ever further. The full truth can only be known by those involved but there is no doubting the achievements of someone with so many physical challenges to overcome.
The movie is directed in a solid, mostly linear style, on occasion taking a leisurely meandering approach. This largely suits the story but may frustrate younger viewers accustomed to jump cuts and directorial flourishes.
Overall an excellent and inspiring film with a stand out performance from both leads, deserving of Oscar attention. Slightly old fashioned in style but beautifully staged with nuanced characters you can absolutely believe in.