Our theory is that a movie based on a book written by the devoted ex-wife of the still-living astrophysicist Stephen Hawking would lack objectivity.
“The Theory of Everything” is visually gorgeous and Eddie Redmayne deserves several dozen Oscars for his inspired interpretation of the profoundly disabled genius who nailed black holes 50 years ago. Really, he is officially in the pantheon with Daniel Day-Lewis (“My Left Foot”) and Patty Duke (“The Miracle Worker”).
But Redmayne’s acting outdistances that of the rest of the cast much as Hawking’s insights into the nature of the universe set him apart from his colleagues at Cambridge.
Nor is the story quite sure where to go. Is this a bio-pic of a savant who stood physics on its ear or the story of a loving couple struggling with Lou Gerhig’s disease and international acclaim?
After a dazzling launch where we meet the charming, not-entire-nerdy Ph.D. candidates and follow his whirlwind romance with Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), we settle in to learn a thing or two about infinity, God and relativity. Pretty cool: we were able to follow almost half of it.
Jane’s care and devotion to Stephen is beyond saintly. As his motor neuron disease worsens, she is braver and kinder than ever. (At least that’s her story, and it’s all we’ve got.) But Stephen’s needs are enormous and eventually Jane brings into the family a kind and gentle choir director named Jonathan (Charlie Cox). He is a recent widower and as classically handsome as Jane is English-lovely. Jonathan engages in horseplay with the Hawking children and hoists Stephen when necessary. He brings a welcome touch of regular guy into the mix. Very welcome, it seems, as he and Jane have trouble keeping their eyes off one another.
Meanwhile, Hawking, who has had to undergo a tracheotomy and requires all sorts of special care, is starting to have special feelings for his very chipper therapist. Everyone does their best to look sad, sorry, understanding and guilty. Then the story gets back on track. Yay!
The story ends on a very fine note as Hawking and his now ex-wife are summoned before Queen Elizabeth II for royal honors.
The supporting actors are among the industry’s best, each at the top of his or her game: Emily Watson as Jane’s mother, Simon McBurney as Stephen’s father, Adam Godly as a concerned doctor. Really, there is no bad acting. The wardrobe person missed no details and the lush cinematography makes you long for the England of gardens, parks, shady lanes and thatched roofs.
A little less idolatry and melodrama and a few more adventures in quantum physics and the picture would have a more lasting and affecting impact on the viewer.