The Theory of Everything (UK 2014)

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This newly released film looks set to do well in the Award Season, especially at the UK BAFTAS, having already won a Golden Globe for its star. It does posses a lot of the qualities that have pleased the BAFTA membership, including the fine acting that so frequently graces British films. However, despite a dramatic and ultimately feel-good real-life story as a basis, it rather fails to engage. I think the problems lies in the scripting and direction, as the production values are pretty good.

The film seems to be inhibited by that sense of ‘good taste’ that is so common in British films. To give one example [which as it is a recorded event is hardly a plot spoiler], late in the film Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his wife Jane (Felicity Jones) attend an investiture at Buckingham Palace. We see the fore and after but not the actual event, which feels like an anti-climax. The same decorum also inhibits the sexual relations which are an important part of the story.

The film also suffers from a common problem with biopics – how to convey complex ideas without becoming complicated. One way used in this production occurs at the film’s end. The plot is reversed in a brief and rapid montage: a sort of mini-Benjamin Button. One can guess at the intended relationship to Stephen Hawkins’s famous work on Time: but it feels facile. The film is taken from the memoir by Jane: whilst the film shows her engaging with Stephen’s theorising the focus is personal rather than scientific.

But what the film really lacks is intensity. It crosses over in some ways with two earlier films – My Left Foot (UK 1989) and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (US/France 2007). But those films not only enjoy fine lead performances, they also generate a sense of emotion that seems to engage most audiences. I rather think this film fails on that account.

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One comment

  1. Roy Stafford

    I think I enjoyed this more than you, but I agree that there is a flaw in conceptualising what kind of story there is to tell.

    I didn’t find the physics particularly interesting – as you suggest the filmmakers didn’t seem to find a way to do this. I was much more interested in the love story, especially from Jane’s perspective. That is the story of the original property but I did feel that we weren’t given enough. Perhaps you are right about the film’s apparent need for decorum. Everything got much more interesting when Maxine Peake turned up. What a wonderful surprise. Having said that I did think Felicty Jones was terrific and the costume design was a standout. I think I remember every one of those 1960s outfits.

    What really pissed me off, of course, was when Jonathan referred to his wife as having ‘passed’. No one in the UK in the 1960s would have had any idea what he was talking about. Can’t American audiences accept someone saying “She died”?

    I’d also liked to have known more about Hawking as a socialist.

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