The film’s strength is Eddie Redmayne’s terrific, consistent performance as Hawking, who goes from a carefree young student at Cambridge in the mid 1960s to a world-class thinker, even as his body succumbs to neuromuscular disease leaving him wheelchair-bound and able to speak only through a computer-enabled voice. Essentially an intimate marital drama rather than a career story, the film focuses on Hawking’s first marriage to literature student Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones) and her unwavering loyalty to him since the onset of his illness.
Well made and incredibly acted, the film nevertheless falls short on account of its unwillingness to dig deeper. You can’t help suspecting that you’re being served a more cheery version of events, given Hawking’s progressively deteriorating condition and the strain that puts on the marriage. Also, no matter how many times the words “relativity” and “space time singularity” are thrown around in conversations, you never quite get a sense of what Hawking’s achievement really means.
Yet, a few scenes in the film are excellently constructed, like the one in which Jane realizes her marriage is over. It’s done without any melodrama or messiness, and yet it’s a deeply affecting moment. Redmayne and Jones have excellent chemistry together, each doing their best work here. Not only does Redmayne get Hawking’s condition just right – the awkward walk, the twitch, the head-tilt – he even gives us occasional glimpses of his sly sense of humor. Jones has a far less showy role, but she’s just as impressive with a subtle turn that alternately reveals steely resolve and patience, and ultimately the heartbreak her character endures.
For their performances alone, The Theory of Everything might be worth a watch. Evidently, this true-life story has been Hollywood-ized for awards recognition and mass appeal. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.