Whether rightly or wrongly, Eddie Redmayne seems to be best known for his good looks rather than his acting talent. Although, this will surely cease to be the case following his performance as Professor Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything – Redmayne delivers an astonishing, career defining performance, firmly cementing his place as one of the best young British actors of his generation.
Most people will know Stephen Hawking as the wheelchair-bound, computer-voiced physicist, and I would expect that, in general, this is about as much as they know about him. The Theory of Everything sets out to change this, recreating Hawking’s life from his university days where he meets his wife Jane Wild, to the emergence of his crippling motor neurone disease aged just twenty-one, the development of his theory of black holes and the inception of the universe, the publication of his extremely successful book A Brief History of Time and finally to his separation with Jane and the beginning of his relationship with his nurse Elaine.
As a young PhD student at Cambridge, Stephen is an eccentric, lazy, brilliant cosmologist who meets Jane at a party at the onset of the film. The two are an instant match, spending the entire night talking with each other. We see their relationship slowly blossom, climaxing with a romantic first kiss during the university May ball. Stephen, at first unsure which area of physics to pursue in his doctorate, finally sets his eyes on time and the origin of our universe. However, just when things seem to be going so well, tragedy strikes and Stephen is diagnosed with motor nuerone disease. He is told he will slowly lose control of his body and is given just two years to live.
While Stephen seems to have given up all hope, Jane is determined to continue with their romance and make the most of what little time they have left together. They have their first child, and Stephen is awarded his PhD following his theory of black holes and a spacetime singularity at the start of the universe.
Redmayne’s performance of Hawking, and his transformation from an ebullient young man, to a crippled young man, and finally to the wheelchair-bound physicist we all know, is nothing short of brilliant. He really becomes Hawking, and while watching the film you forget you are watching an actor rather than the real thing. Comparisons with Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of Christy Brown in My Left Foot are both easy to make and well deserved. Day Lewis was awarded his first ‘Best Actor’ for that performance, and Redmayne is in with a very good chance of doing the same for this one.
With Redmayne somewhat stealing the show, it is easy to overlook the other performances. To do this would be doing a great disservice to Felicity Jones, whose portrayal of Jane Hawking is similarly impressive. We see her transform from an infatuated young woman, to a tough, passionate wife and watch as she struggles to support the man she loves. Fundamentally this is a film about the relationship between Stephen and Jane Hawking, and both Redmayne and Jones deliver in spectacular style.
At a little over two hours it doesn’t overstay it welcome but is perhaps a little prolonged in the midsection and a couple of scenes in the first hour seemed a little wonky. However, these complaints are very minor in the grand scheme of things and a poignant ending, a particularly potent scene arrives in the form of a Q&A session following the release of Hawking’s book, is likely to leave a tear or two in the eye.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Alan Turing in The Imitation Game at the end of last year will make him forever associated with that brilliant mathematician, Eddie Redmayne’s performance in The Theory of Everything does the same with a brilliant physicist. Redmayne is Stephen Hawking, and while watching this film you will believe precisely that.