After the tragic tale of Alan Turing as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game, prepare to be totally devastated by the almost equally tragic tale of Professor Stephen Hawking. Even if this story has a more uplifting conclusion, (Hawking winds up as a National hero rather than being chemically castrated) there’s still plenty to weep over along the way so be prepared and take along a good supply of tissues.
Based on the book my Hawking’s ex-wife, Jane, the story begins in 1963, where a vigorous young Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) is studying his craft at Cambridge University. The period detail is quite nicely captured, though this is a 1960s where (apparently) nobody smokes a cigarette and where a firework display looks decidedly better than the dismal pyrotechnics I remember from my own youth. But these are minor niggles. After a chance meeting at a pub, Stephen connects with Jane (a radiant Felicity Jones) and after a little uncertainty, they become lovers. But tragedy waits in the wings when after a fall, Stephen is diagnosed with motor neurone disease and told that he has two years to live. Cue the tears.
The remainder of the story is how the couple triumphed against all odds, managing to become parents three times over and how Stephen came to write the most successful book that nobody actually read. It’s also essentially about how Jane sacrificed so much in order to be Stephen’s full time carer. If you were worried that it would be all hearts and flowers, don’t despair, because there’s a fairly sour conclusion to this real life tale that’ll get the old tear ducts flowing all over again. A host of solid performers struggle to make themselves visible in minor roles (poor Emily Watson barely gets a look in) but this film belongs entirely to its lead actors. Redmayne is frankly astonishing, managing to inhabit Hawking’s tricky persona with ease and never losing sight of the man’s innate dignity, but it’s Jones who is the real revelation here, portraying Jane as a woman determinedly maintaining her English Rose composure whilst clearly displaying every inner torment through those soulful eyes. It’s surely a performance worthy of Mr Oscar when the time comes around.
The Theory of Everything is more than just another tearjerker. It’s stylishly done and comes complete with two superb performances fitted as standard. Just don’t forget to take that box of Kleenex!