At its best, this affecting biopic of the cosmos-rattling astrophysicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) smartly avoids schmaltz. Hawking has often seen the dark humour in the disease that began robbing him of his muscular functions as early as his student years. ‘The Theory of Everything’ runs with that irony: this is a Hawking profile in which you’ll see the wheelchair-using, speech-impaired scientist happily rolling around his living room dressed up like a Dalek.
More substantially, it’s also a movie that delivers science in an approachable, Brian Cox-like way. An early scene has a thoughtful professor introducing the Cambridge student to a lab where all the action happens; it’s a lovely moment of quiet inspiration. The film is filled with snazzy visual metaphors: a swirling cup of coffee becomes a symbol for dark and light matter. A formal dance, where Stephen twirls with his future wife, Jane (Felicity Jones), twinkles with party lights and a hint of the universe falling into place.
The film is Jane and Stephen’s story (the script is largely based on the second of Jane Hawking’s two memoirs), and even though it smooths out some of their domestic unease and eventual divorce, there’s still a painful strain below the surface, from playful sparring over religion to the tougher realities of ambitions put on ice. Both performers are extraordinary, and while Redmayne has more physical mannerisms to master, Jones burns hotter as a strong woman who can’t forget her own needs.