If you’re in the mood for something tasteful, classy, and kudos-baiting, The Theory of Everything — about the intellectual, emotional and physical mountains scaled by cosmological physicist Stephen Hawking — may be your thing. The film’s been scripted by novelist Anthony McCarten from Jane Hawking’s memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen and, as directed by James Marsh (the Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire), but although it’s narrow gauge and barely touches on Hawking’s breakthrough theories about time, space and matter, it’s really well made and spectacularly well-acted.
At its center is an overcoming-extreme-adversity tale wrapped around a 25-year love story that begins back when Hawking was a Cambridge doctoral student in his early 20s and met a beautiful, intelligent young woman whom he married and who steadfastly helped him struggle to adjust when doctors diagnosed him with the motor neuron disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and gave him two years to live. Eddie Redmayne, who starred in My Week With Marilyn and was one of the few tolerable things in Les Miserables, is astonishing — completely transforming himself into a contorted, increasingly wasting away but unfailingly brilliant and resilient Hawking. He finds so many ways to convey Hawking’s sardonic wit, charisma and shifting moods, even when he can only narrow his gaze and work his eyebrows, that comparisons with Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance as Christy Brown in My Left Foot are spot on. If Redmayne’s not a lock for a best actor Oscar, he’s close.
It’s up to Felicity Jones to share the heavy lifting as Jane Hawking and the actress, who made a mark in The Invisible Woman, impresses as quietly brilliant. She’s strong and subtle, especially when an attraction flares up between her and an old friend (an excellent Charlie Cox, who grabbed attention on Boardwalk Empire).
The Theory of Everything doesn’t worry itself with tunneling into Hawking’s psyche or find ways to visualize his breathtaking mind the way great bio-movies like My Left Foot or The Diving Bell and the Butterfly have done. But it packs a punch just the same. ***