Charting six of the most turbulent years in the life of pioneering scientist Marie Curie at the height of her career, Marie Curie: The Courage Of knowledge is the new feature film from French director Marie Noëlle. Staring Karolina Gruszka in the principal role, the film attempts to lift the veil on an extraordinary life which was later marred by scandal and heartbreak, and offers an honest retelling of those troubled times with a great deal of tenderness and sympathy for its subject.
It’s 1905 and Pierre (Charles Berling) and Marie Curie (Gruszka) have come to Stockholm to collect their first joint Nobel Prize for the discovery of radioactivity. Despite the accolades showered on the couple, Marie seems less interest in the pomp surrounding them than in continuing the research they started together in the hope of helping cancer sufferers benefit from the couple’s groundbreaking discovery.
Back in France, tragedy strikes when in 1906 Marie’s beloved husband Pierre is struck down by a a horse-drawn carriage and is tragically killed leaving behind a house full of children and a devastated wife. Left alone, Marie must continue tending to her motherly responsibilities and to the work she started with Pierre, leaving her very little time to grieve for the love of her life.
Embarking on a passionate affair with married mathematician Paul Langevin, played magnificently by Arieh Worthalter, Marie provokes a huge scandal which is made worse by the continued interest in her by the salacious tabloid press of the time. Hit by scandal and maligned by a stuffy bourgeois Parisian society, Marie is left devastated by the way she has been treated, even by those who purport to have her best interests at heart.
A household name in her native Poland, Karolina Gruszka does a fantastic job in conveying Curie’s heartache, grief and quiet passion. Delivering every line with a huge deal of restraint and poise, Gruszka seems as at ease in French as she is in her own language, which is no mean feat for any actor.
Tonally, the film is at times a little confused and doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Part chamber piece, part stylised biopic, Marie Curie: The Courage Of knowledge offers a beautifully nuanced narrative and manages to tell a story many wouldn’t have been familiar with, but its inability to stick to a style might prove a little jarring for some, and could ultimately fail to achieve what it initially set out to do.
Despite seeming a little laboured in places, Noëlle’s directing style is a breath of fresh air and a testament to her commitment to the visual as well as the storytelling aspect of the film. She and co-write Andrea Stoll should be commended for offering an uncompromisingly detailed story, which although not without fault, remains an important one to tell. A genuinely heartening production which is likely to be an eye opener for some, even if it doesn’t always manage to hit the right note.