It’s now been a few days since I watched The Theory of Everything, a film based on the memoirs of Professor Stephen Hawking’s first wife, Jane. And I’m just about ready to talk about it, because at the time it basically reduced me to an emotional wreck.
Before watching the film, I knew very little about Stephen Hawking, besides the fact that he has motor neurone disease (known as ALS in the States) and speaks through a computer. Oh, and he’s been in The Big Bang Theory. I’m not even sure I realised he was British before.
The movie charts Hawking’s relationship with Jane from their first meeting in Cambridge and throughout their marriage, simultaneously plotting his deterioration as the motor neurone disease takes hold. If you’re after the story of Hawking the physicist, you might be disappointed – although of course there are references to his work. But what you do get is the story of a woman standing by her man, even faced with a condition that she knows will make him dependent on her and unable to communicate, and could kill him at any time. The scenes where he tries to push her away, and she refuses to budge, had me in floods. But then again, I am a bit of a cry baby these days.
It’s a moving love story, but possibly nothing that original. What makes this film different is Eddie Redmayne, who’s almost unrecognisable as Hawking, transforming before our eyes from a healthy young man, falling in love for the first time and on the verge of his first scientific breakthrough, to the familiar figure in the wheelchair that we all know today. It’s an incredible performance, and well worth the Oscar buzz it’s generated. Some of the hardest scenes to watch are of him coming to terms with his new limitations – trying to pull himself up the stairs as his baby son watches, or, after the tracheotomy that leaves him unable to speak, faced with the prospect of communicating through a letter board. But he also has a cheeky grin and a mischievous twinkle in his eye, a reminder that Hawking himself is much more than just his disability, or his professional reputation as a scientist. The movie may be about how Hawking became a legend, but it could well also be the making of its star.
Besides Eddie Redmayne, the movie also stars Felicity Jones as Jane and David Thewlis (a.k.a. Professor Lupin from Harry Potter) as Hawking’s academic supervisor and friend, Dennis Sciama. And if, like me, you’re the type to spend the entire two hours trying to figure out why you recognise someone, let me put you out of your misery: the guy who plays Brian is Viserys Targaryen from Game of Thrones. You’re welcome.
Other highlights included the welcome appearance of the lovely Charlie Cox (who I’ve been missing since Stardust) as choirmaster Jonathan, and Jane’s attempt to explain to him the difference between quantum theory and general relativity using peas and potatoes. I didn’t understand any of it, but I did enjoy the bit about ‘when you bring peas into it, everything goes tits up’. Forget science – that’s just true generally. (I really hate peas.)
The Theory of Everything is much more than just a love story. It will leave you feeling inspired, entertained and more than a little tear-stained, with a new respect for both Stephen Hawking and Eddie Redmayne. Not only that; it raises awareness of the effects of motor neurone disease in a way no ice bucket challenge ever could, and that can only be a good thing.