We begin our story at Cambridge, where a young, enthusiastic Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) first meets the cultured, fellow student Jane (Felicity Jones), only for the pair to fall heads over heels in love, and embark in a passionate relationship. However just as their romance is blossoming, Hawking discovers he has motor neurone disease – and has been given just two years to live. The immensely intelligent physicist defies all the odds and strives to continue on his work, though while his status grows, his relationship with Jane becomes increasingly more strained, leaving her to bring in assistance in the form of church goer Jonathan (Charlie Cox), with three children and a disabled husband to care for.
One of the most important tasks for any director to achieve when presenting a biopic of somebody so renowned, is to not only entertain, but to educate and enlighten. That’s a given where this tale is concerned, picking up on a time in Hawking’s life somewhat less publicised, as we delve into the years preceding his disease. This is a Hawking we know less about, which makes for fascinating territory. Marsh intelligently explores how his life changed, as in the early stages of this picture, the director lingers, if only for a second, on moments of mobility, highlighting this young man’s vigour. It may only be as trivial as picking up a pen, but it’s shot in such a way to remind of us what is to come, and how we may take simple tasks such as that for granted.
In regards to the audience embodying the protagonist, Marsh implements an effective technique whereby we see the world from Hawking’s perspective. A number of important moments are seen through his eyes, helping to form that connection between the character and the viewer. What also helps, of course, is Redmayne’s exceptional performance. While undoubtedly a talented actor, he’s yet to be provided with a role of true significance, allowing him to flex his acting muscles – appearing more as something of a cipher in films such as My Week with Marilyn and Les Misérables. In The Theory of Everything he is given the opportunity to exhibit his credentials, and he triumphs. Jones matches him at every turn too, as an actor who is so unreservedly empathetic and endearing, and above all, so real. She’s blessed with a truly humanised, flawed character though, which is so much more valuable than to merely romanticise over her support she lovingly provides to her husband and children. She’s not an angel, just a human being.
In true, British fashion, The Theory of Everything is exceedingly humorous too, implementing comedy in otherwise poignant situations, to make a picture that is so benevolent, and benign in its nature. The only real criticism is that Marsh, and screenwriter Anthony McCarten, can be accused of attempting too much, deviating away from intimacy with an inclination to cover too much ground, as our tale expands across decades, a fault of so many biopics. Similarly to discovering the actual theory of everything, perhaps this title is a little too overambitious.