As a biopic this suffers from the problems that often plague its genre, including a tendency to look at its subject through heavily rose-tinted glasses. But within these unfortunate limitations lies a performance, which I do not think I am being facetious in declaring as one of the best of this young century. As the film unfolds Redmayne literally becomes Hawking in front of our eyes; it’s a staggering transformation. But physical embodiment is nothing without being able to deliver the soul of a character and Redmayne delivers here to the point that with only twitches of his eyebrow he can communicate vastly more than he ever could as a young and unimpaired Hawking.
One of the great things about this film is that, as strong as the work Redmayne delivers is, Felicity Jones manages to match him blow for blow as Jane Hawking. This role could have easily been dominated by Redmayne’s performance but Jones works very hard to portray the struggle of Hawking’s wife over the years with a subtle and intelligent performance. She may not always get the opportunity to work through her characters wants and desires on screen, but instead often has to communicate with a gesture or a look; demonstrating both an intelligent performer and a pleasingly subtle strength of the script.
Where the film finds its faults is in the somewhat unimaginative and cowardly treatment of its subject. It’s absolutely fine for a film to celebrate it’s lead character when it’s about a figure such as Hawking, but it has to recognise that person’s flaws as well as their triumphs. It’s a common problem with the biopic as a form, and whilst we do get little moments where Hawking perceptibly acts in a somewhat selfish manner, these aren’t particularly explored. This is pretty unfortunate as not only do we not gain a clearer sense of the man himself, but also because its pretty crucial to the film’s love story angle. Perhaps its because the man is still alive but it’s a shame that the film couldn’t be a little more complex in that regard, then perhaps it would have been a truly great piece of cinema that’s worthy of its lead performance.
Despite the fact that this film has its share of flaws I absoloutley do not want to put you off seeing it as for every flaw it has there are numerous highlights to be played against it. These range from its cast which includes actors such as David Thewlis and Emily Watson, its refusal to wallow in pity and displays of agony porn as Dominick Mayer succinctly put it¹ and because of the performance of a lifetime given by Redmayne. Unlike The Imitation Game there’s enough science on display here that we can actually appreciate what our hero is struggling against and aiming for, and the love story is strongly established enough that it quite rightly wins out over the science in the end. If you’re on the fence about this one then see it for Redmayne; this film has forever changed my view of him and his work.
What is the film’s greatest strength? It’s two leads. No doubt about that at all.
Its greatest weakness? How sanctified it’s treatment of Hawking is.
Would I see it again? Absolutely – I expect my appreciation of Redmayne’s work will only increase, however the film itself may well suffer a little from a re-watch.
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