A biopic of Professor Stephen Hawking is a goldmine for Hollywood. He is arguably the most influential living physicist, akin to Albert Einstein. he has a crippling disease and was only given a few years to live, but recently celebrated his 73rd birthday. The Theory of Everything is based on the memoirs Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen of his first wife Jane and charts his early life at University and the discovery of his early onset ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) that has confirmed him to a wheelchair for decades. What a shame then that director James Marsh fails to deliver on the promise of the setup.
Young Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is a student at the University of Oxford studying theoretical physics. Despite finding the work easy he is pushed into a line of reasoning that takes him to the University of Cambridge where he meets Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). The two fall in love as Stephen begins to delve further into ideas relating to black holes and the creation of the Universe. After a nasty fall he discovers that he has early onset ALS, but despite only being given a short life span he decides to marry Jane before embarking on further study.
To say that The Theory of Everything is a disappointment doesn’t quite tell the whole story. The performances from Jones and Redmayne are good, with enough underlying chemistry and spark to carry the weight of the story. What a shame then that it is the story that is the problem. Everything in here is told in an efficient manner, but the decision to focus on their relationship rather than the work of Professor Hawking is the mistake.
This is a man who has studied physics to such a level of understanding and discovery to place himself in a club of only a handful of scientists. Yet the focus here is almost entirely on the romance and the disability. You can see why the film-makers might have thought this was the story to pursue as it is so heavily awards-friendly that they want their gold statuettes. Redmayne will no doubt get a nomination, but in terms of actual performance it’s not nearly as accomplished as the hype surrounding the film will have you believe. In fact it is Felicity Jones who should be receiving the plaudits, deftly avoiding the pitfalls of her flawed character and presenting a wonderfully rounded character who is caught up in one of the most startling lifes.
But as with all story-telling, you should never mention something more exciting that’s happening elsewhere, because the audience will always want to know why we aren’t watching that, and his study and discoveries trump the personal aspects of his life to such a degree that the film becomes frustrating and at times melodramatic. This causes the film to drag and by the end it feels more like an episode of a soap opera than the story of one of the greatest minds of our generation.