Review: The Theory of Everything (TIFF 2014)
PLOT: The story of Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his first wife Jane (Felicity Jones) from their early courtship, to his eventual diagnosis and physical decline from motor neurone disease and scientific breakthroughs.
REVIEW: I've seen a lot of good performances at this year's TIFF, but none quite as uncanny as Eddie Redmayne's turn as Stephen Hawking in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING. Redmayne is an actor who's been on our radar for years, but this will almost certainly be his breakthrough to A-list status, with his performance garnering tons of Oscar buzz.
Truly, he's a revelation. No matter how much you know about Hawking as a person, his performance can't help but move you, as James Marsh's movie tracks him from his early days as a healthy academic, through his physical decline and loss of motor function, all of which Redmayne conveys brilliantly. By the later scenes, where Hawking is almost completely immobile and only really able to move his fingers and arch his eyebrows, you feel like you're actually watching a young Hawking. This is a case where you forget Redmayne is acting as he's absolutely become the character, utterly disappearing into the part.
With Redmayne's performance generating all the buzz, where does that leave THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING as a film itself? Overall, it's a fairly standard biopic, but Marsh directs it with a keen eye for period detail, and similar to the Turing biopic THE IMITATION GAME presents Hawking's scientific breakthroughs in layman's terms, something Hawking himself has always been able to do, with his book A Brief History of Time having been written in a way that anyone could read it and understand it.
Being a Working Title film, you can reasonably assume that this is a big, broadly commercial biopic with a big heart, something which will likely turn it into a major mainstream success. It manages to both elicit tears and joy with its ultimately upbeat message. With Redmayne already getting most of the accolades, Felicity Jones' performance as Jane could be in danger of being overlooked, which is a shame as it's probably her best role to date. She's terrific as the kindhearted, but firm Jane, who remains optimistic in the face of Hawking's diagnosis, but also won't be cowed by her husband's intellect, keeping her church of England faith even as he himself becomes an avowed atheist (only to soften to being agnostic later on).
The ultimate strength of the film, outside of the performances, is that you'll like both Jane and Stephen, and root for them to stay together. Their inevitable separation is one of the most compassionate depictions of a decaying marriage I've ever seen on film, with everyone coming off well. This is particularly true of Charlie Cox, who has to be playing the most likable other man ever, as a widowed church organist with feelings for Jane and the Hawking children. Even his controversial second wife, Elaine, comes off relatively well.
While ultimately a straightforward film, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING is a wonderfully entertaining biopic, with the two lead performances making it potentially Oscar-worthy. You can expect to hear a lot more about this as the awards season approaches.