By Kenneth Turan
Los Angeles Times
The field that made scientist Stephen Hawking an international celebrity may be physics, but the reason “The Theory of Everything” is emotionally effective as an examination of his life and thought comes down to chemistry, the interconnected performances of Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.
Redmayne and Jones are beautifully compatible as Hawking and his then-wife Jane as they navigate the ebb and flow of 25 years of their relationship, a subtle, nuanced connection that posits that the complexities of the universe are nothing compared with the intricacies of the human heart.
Hawking’s public story, surviving for half a century with a disease that was supposed to kill him within two years and going on to write the 10-million-copy-selling “A Brief History of Time,” is a tale it would be impossible to make up.
But “Theory of Everything” screenwriter Anthony McCarten has smartly gone further. Working from Jane Hawking’s memoir, “Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen,” he’s expertly emphasized the personal side of the story, which involves not only a marriage coping with the ravages of disease but also coming to terms with the kinds of interpersonal challenges neither of the partners expected when they married.
Though he’s not usually thought of as a dramatic filmmaker and risks becoming overshadowed by the justifiable praise that Redmayne’s uncanny performance has been getting, director James Marsh’s contribution here is considerable.
A director with a natural gift for telling stories, Marsh makes the most of McCarten’s effective script. There’s a real energy to his filmmaking, the ability to be intelligently dramatic without overdoing things that is ideally suited to material that would be so easy to get wrong.
Redmayne, best known for his role on stage in “Red” and in film in “Les Miserables,” gives a performance that is remarkable by any standard. The actor put in months of preparation, working with movement and vocal coaches and visiting real MND patients, and his ability to re-create numerous, at times painful to watch, stages of the disease is especially amazing when you realize the film was not shot in sequence.
Helping considerably is having a performer as strong and subtle as Jones, memorable in “The Invisible Woman” and “Like Crazy,” to work off of in a scenario that charts a fraught and complicated relationship.
While Hawking’s scientific work, especially his theories about the nature of black holes and the origins of the universe, is given its due, the focus here is always on the personal, on the daunting complications this very unusual couple faced.
It’s typical of the largeness of spirit with which “Theory of Everything” has been made that no matter how challenging the relationships get, no one here is depicted in a negative light. This is a dramatization that Hawking himself has called “broadly true,” a story whose honesty we want to believe in. It is fortunate that it has the kind of exceptional cast that allows us to do just that.
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