TIFF 2014: Redmayne Shines as Hawking in 'The Theory of Everything'
by Alex Billington
September 9, 2014
This year there seems to be a number of outstanding films about the struggles of the most intelligent people in recent history. At the Telluride Film Festival, I was blown away by The Imitation Game (read my review), which told the story of English mathematician and code-breaker Alan Turing, who was medically castrated for homosexuality after helping crack the Nazi’s Enigma code during WWII. At the Toronto Film Festival, I was just as impressed with The Theory of Everything, which tells the story of English cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who lost control of the his muscles in his body due to motor neurone disease, yet still wowed the world with his mind. The Theory of Everything has some issues, but is still a very powerful film.
At this point, most of us are already very familiar with Professor Hawking: his books, his studies, and his computer voice. There is even an excellent documentary about him and his life released just last year called Hawking (see it online here). In The Theory of Everything, English filmmaker James Marsh (of Man on Wire) attempts to tell his life story within the context of his relationship and marriage to Jane Wilde, played by the incomparable Felicity Jones. The film runs a full two hours and spans his early years at Oxford, eventually leading to their marriage, their kids, and the years where he began to lose control of his body, all the while he was still working on publishing research. Don't blink, or you'll miss a key scene, it moves fast.
Marsh goes all out with style with this film, utilizing a very lush color palette; at times it seems like they put one too many filters on the camera. But it adds an immense beauty to the film, making it quite unique, which may be necessary because aside from their relationship it could easily veer into the cinematically dull territory of explaining his studies and interests. While I may be interested in that myself, the film's true focus is on their relationship – Jane and Stephen – occasionally to a fault. At times as it glosses over some of the more important moments in his life and instead spends too much time on moments that just don't seem to matter much. Sure, they have a complicated relationship that gets more strained as his body begins to degrade, but there's so much more to this man beyond that. The first half is much better than the second.
Above all, Eddie Redmayne is phenomenal as Hawking, taking this performance to remarkable heights from the way he wears his glasses and his mannerisms, to his intelligence and jokester quirks that make him so likable. It's refreshing to see, and engaging to watch. Felicity Jones is fantastic too, and she embraces the character completely even though it spans so many years from young to old (which can be a challenge for some actors). It's always exciting to see two people that work together perfectly, and that's the case here. The Theory of Everything is brought to life by these two. By the end I was thoroughly moved by Redmayne's performance. Even when he's confined to the wheelchair, and barely able to speak, he's incredible to watch.
With so many biopics coming out, and so many of them about some of the smartest people around, only a few can stand out in the crowd. This is one of those that is unique in many ways, from its visual style to the performances to the story itself, and it pays off in a completely engrossing experience. It's not perfect, with some problems in pacing, the style occasionally being overbearing, and a second half that doesn't compare to the first half, but it is still a very powerful, very moving film that connects deeply with audiences. Prepare to wipe away tears by the end, even though you'll have a big, goofy smile on your face because this man is so inspiring. And if you don't know who they are already, Redmayne and Jones both leave lasting impressions.
Alex's TIFF 2014 Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing