“The Theory of Everything” is Director James Marsh’s extraordinary biopic about the fascinating and inspirational genius physicist Stephen Hawking. It focusses on 30 years in Hawking’s life from his early student days through his 25 year marriage and his slow deterioration from the ravages of Motor Neuron disease. The experiences inspired Jane Wilde Hawking’s best-selling memoir “Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen”, upon which the director has sensitively based this film.
The story begins in 1963 when Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) was an awkward, shy but charming student pursuing a doctorate in physics in Cambridge. When he meets a pretty, lively and determined young girl, Jane Wilde (a superb Felicity Jones), at a party, they fall madly in love. She is well-bred and well-mannered and is one of the few girls who can engage his intellect in discussions about religion, science and poetry and he is captivated by her. However, not long after they finally get together, Stephen stumbles and lands unconscious on the pavement at school. With his entire future ahead of him, a doctor informs Stephen he has only about two years to live as muscles throughout his body have started to rapidly deteriorate. This sends Stephen plummeting into a downward spiral of depression. He cuts off his friends, loved ones and academic connections and becomes resigned to his impending death.
But Jane is determined not to succumb to his darkness and wants nothing to do with despair. She pursues him, marries him and ultimately devotes her life to his survival. While she patiently coaxes him out of his depression, Stephen continues to spin out brilliant theories. However, the strain of looking after him while also raising three children begins to wear on Jane. She says she needs outside help but Stephen resists this. When a music teacher named Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox), enters their world, things get more complicated.
This is a fine film on so many levels. It doesn’t shy away from depicting the horrors of Hawking’s illness, nor the strains that it put on his marriage and the burden it places on Jane as his caregiver. Their relationship is constantly tested by the horrific progression of his disabilities which attacks and ravages his body but not his brilliant mind. The physical transformation of Eddie Redmayne is remarkable. He gives one of the most phenomenal performances of the year and in my opinion is surely deserving of an Oscar. While his performance is tragic and emotional, he also manages to inject it with humour, even when he can no longer move or communicate without mechanical assistance. In fact, the acting is universally impeccable. “The Theory of Everything” is a touching, heart wrenching and moving tale but also a love story full of courage, compassion and strength. It is by no means a typical heroic love story. As Stephen’s crippling disability accelerates, the marriage is knocked and threatened by doubts, exhaustion and infidelity on both sides. Even after their later divorce and Stephen’s second marriage, I think it is heartwarming to know that they remain friends to this day. Now he is 72 and Stephen Hawking is a remarkable example of how much the brain can still achieve, even if the body has given up. I would highly recommend this inspirational story about how one extraordinary couple triumphs over adversity.