It’s interesting that The Theory of Everything is billed as a romance. The film follows the real life story of world famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and his relationship with Jane, a religious Cambridge arts student, who later became his wife. The two had only known each other a short time when Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 21. Indeed, it’s a love story, but not necessarily one of romantic love.
Eddie Redmayne (My Week with Marilyn) is masterful as Hawking, totally vanishing into this well-known persona. It’s a flashy, Oscar-baiting performance, but it’s also very effective. You never for a moment feel as if you’re watching an actor playing a scene. Felicity Jones (Cemetery Junction) is subtly understated in contrast, as a sweetly intelligent and selfless woman, who refuses to give up on her husband. The cast is superb, rounded out by such greats as David Thewlis (War Horse) and Emily Watson (Punch-Drunk Love).
Director James Marsh (Man on Wire) shows an acute flair working with cinematographer Benoît Delhomme (Lawless), achieving an often lush visual style. Anthony McCarten’s script refreshingly avoids all of the expected bio-pic clichés. Every nuance feels competently crafted, but far from groundbreaking.
The Theory of Everything is the Hallmark card version of Hawking’s life. That’s not an insult. Hallmark cards have a function.
This is a quaint and civilized film, occasionally bordering on bland. Stephen and Jane must have gone through hell during their 30 year relationship, but the audience is needlessly spared the gritty realities. Why bother with the true life horrors of ALS, when you could simply cut to another magic hour shot of Hawking grinning and cue the inspirational music?
It’s a skillfully-made and well-intentioned film, but were it not for that outstanding cast, The Theory of Everything would be nothing.