Directed by James Marsh
2014 Biographical Drama
2 hours 3 minutes
From Focus Features
There is an earnestness about Eddie Redmayne that I find terribly appealing. I have followed his career from the beginning, seeing nearly all of his movies. Two of them are in my 50 Favorite Films... Savage Grace and My Week with Marilyn. I thought he was on the mark in Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Yellow Handkerchief and the TV miniseries, Pillars of the Earth. Even when I haven't liked one of his movies, such as Les Misérables, I thought he was the best thing in it.
Here he plays the British theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author Stephen Hawking. Aside from the genius of the man and his invaluable contributions to science, this film is about his physical debilitation and his marriage. The physical has to do with a motor neuron disease as it relates to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS and Lou Gehrig's Disease. In the mid-1960s he was told he would have about two years to live and he is alive today.
The movie focuses on his incredible will to succeed at keeping that brain doing what it does best, no matter that he will be completely paralyzed, in a wheelchair and speaking through a clever speech-producing machine attached to his chair.
The first serious signs of his ALS occurred shortly before he married Jane Wilde, herself no slouch in the brain department. He wanted her to leave him but she insisted on their being married and this film is a testimonial to that marriage and that woman. The movie is based on a book written by Jane.
Their marriage, as one might surmise, was not always easy but I was very touched by how it was portrayed. It was a refreshing change to see a marriage analyzed so positively. It was also charming to see a screenplay where all the characters are actually likeable. (I paid little mind that the real Stephen Hawking, I believe, is or was a bit more cantankerous than this story would show.)
|The dazzling Eddie Redmayne|
There is some dazzling acting here... and I feel compelled to add... of course, there is. Isn't the Hawking kind of role the type that has awards written all over it? It most closely resembles Daniel Day-Lewis's role in My Left Foot, and he walked home with an Oscar and more. One would also be reminded of Russell Crowe's A Beautiful Mind. It's gonna be a mad dash for Oscar nominations because there are 10 or so guys for five Best Actor slots. I have no doubt my pal Eddie will be among them.
That is in no way intended to slight Felicity Jones, an actress (I hang my head in shame to confess) I've barely heard of although I have seen two of her films. As Jane she was a true heroine... a brave, loyal, loving, completely adult partner. The actress made her large, complex role seem effortless. I hope she cops an Oscar nod as well. She is now on my radar. She was a surprise to me... and I love my movie surprises.
All the supporting roles are also delivered splendidly. Pay attention to the work of Charlie Cox and Maxine Peake as Jonathan and Elaine.
Director James Marsh is another one I am barely aware of, although I do recall seeing his 2008 documentary, Man on a Wire. Now I'd like to see his 2012 thriller, Shadow Dancer with Clive Owen. His direction here was stylish, sensitive and lovely to look at. It seemed an ambitious project and he brought it all together and offered it as a present with a big bow.
|The real Stephen Hawking|
It's been said that when Hawking saw the completed film, he said it was largely genuine. (I love to hear that about biographies, an art form I truly adore.) It was also said his eyes were full of tears.
Bravo, bravo, bravo, too, to Focus Features, a company I first became aware of with Brokeback Mountain and whose gift for acquiring important and compelling projects and giving prestige to the independent film market I greatly admire and appreciate.