There is a transformation within The Theory of Everything that acts concurrently to Eddie Redmayne’s tremendous portrayal of Stephen Hawking’s progressive transformation through the debilitating motor neuron disease. The film quickly establishes itself as being thoroughly well made, almost fashionably so; one that presents moments in pristine, yet artificial, fashion. It takes conventional choices more than it needs to and adheres to standard melodramatic biopic tropes. But once Hawking’s condition begins to deteriorate and the drama is heightened, Marsh remodels his direction with darker undertones to explore a relationship of human depth, warmth, complexity and emotional honesty. Nevertheless, moments are not mined and act as mere surface narrative checkpoints which lead to an often stereotypical presentation of a rightfully incredible story.
Much criticism has been directed at the the choice of dramatising the personal struggles Hawking and his wife Jane (Felicity Jones) suffer during their marriage, actively disregarding of the important scientific half of Hawking’s life. There is no shame in this though; the story to be told here is a rich, fascinating and compelling one about regret, morality, emotional combat and the testing endurance of love. Marsh tells this story to serviceable, enjoyable and charming justice but faults by glossing over moments to instead offer an arching journey of life which ends up bloated and lacking focus. The performances rightfully overshadow the story; Redmayne is truly touching and tender in his simplicity while Jones is equally impressive as she carries and controls much of the films pivotal emotional notes. Praise must also be showered on the beautiful costumes and make-up design.
Julian Schnabel’s wonderful The Diving Bell and the Butterfly remains a standard bearer though as this well intentioned biopic could’ve affected, absorbed and achieved a lot more.