There are biopics that stick, barnacle-like, to the facts, going from A to B to C through their storied subject’s life like visualised Wikipedia pages. To her credit, director Marjane Satrapi takes a radically different approach with ‘Radioactive’. Possibly too radical, as it turns out.
The story of Polish-French scientist Marie Curie (Rosamund Pike), it intersperses her discovery of new radioactive elements, her partnership with Pierre Curie (Sam Riley) and a Nobel Prize with sudden flash-forwards to the (literal) fallout of her finds. As daring as it sounds to cut from a nineteenth-century laboratory to the cockpit of the Enola Gay over Hiroshima then back again to a crestfallen Curie, the inadvertent effect is to turn this already extraordinary woman into a strange kind of soothsayer.
When not being asked to channel Christopher Walken in ‘The Dead Zone’, Pike provides the movie with a convincing core as a dogged scientist with an evangelic thirst for discovery and zero tolerance of obstructive old men. But the script by Jack Thorne delivers its feminist message with the subtlety of a foghorn. ‘I’m interested in all science that confronts prevailing attitudes,’ notes Curie in a line that sounds like it was lifted from the website of a biotech company.
There are some wry observations on how Curie’s discoveries were quickly commercialised (radioactive ciggies, anyone?) and a half-explored subplot about her dalliance with a psychic, but unlike its subject, none of the big experiments in ‘Radioactive’ quite come off.