One of the most surprising things about James Marsh’s biopic on Stephen Hawking is that, at its core, it is a love story. The Theory of Everything is more concerned with how the bond between Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his first wife Jane (Felicity Jones) ultimately shaped the life and mind of one of the world’s leaders in the field of theoretical physics.
By establishing the bond between Stephen and Jane early, Marsh brings added weight to the moment when Stephen is diagnosed with having a motor neuron disease and only given two years to live. He presents the material in an even keeled manner by highlighting both the couples’ individual strengths and foibles. Marsh juxtaposes the physical deterioration of Stephen’s body with the robust nature of his theorist mind. As Stephen’s intellect soars, the film proceeds to show the step-by-step progression of how his once spritely body ends up confined to a wheelchair.
The screenplay by Anthony McCarten does a good job of presenting Stephen Hawking’s teachings in a straightforward way. Regardless of whether Stephen is stunning his teacher (David Thewlis) with his brilliance, or lecturing in front of a room full of academics, the film never becomes overly technical in its discourse. It also helps that Jane displays a good grasp of his thought process. Portrayed as someone with strong intellect, which is always nice to see in a female character, Jane not only holds her own in their discussions, but also helps to ensure that the viewer understands his thought process as well. This is especially noticeable when Jane and Stephen find themselves on opposite sides of the religion versus science debate.
Eddie Redmayne is brilliant as Stephen Hawking. His physical transformation on screen from a tall cheerful post-grad student to a withered man trapped in an unresponsive body is stunning. Redmayne makes the drama on screen believable, even in the simple moments were Stephen struggles with basic tasks at the dinner table. Felicity Jones gives an equally good performance as Jane Hawking. She is fiercely loyal and is shown as a symbol of strength for both her husband and family. Jane is with Stephen almost every step of his deterioration and her love is unwavering.
The Theory of Everything is a well-rounded presentation of the relationship between two people of superior intellect and even stronger wills. Stephen and Jane take an initial two year diagnosis and turn it into a lifetime full of family, memories and love. James Marsh’s steady hand presents all of the key points in their relationship, and Stephen Hawking’s academic career with grace. The Theory of Everything is a film that I can definitely recommend.