The Theory of Everything (3 stars)

The Theory of Everything

Eddie Redmayne shines as Stephen Hawking in a sentimentalised biopic

If love is the ultimate conundrum then The Theory of Everything suggests that Stephen Hawking cracked that one too, with the celebrated physicist and cosmologist inspiring heroic levels of devotion as motor neurone disease took hold. Based on Jane Hawking's memoir Travelling to Infinity, James Marsh's film reorders events and soft-soaps the acrimony, yet boasts an appealingly unconventional coupling and eye-catching performances from its shooting star leads.

Plunging us headfirst into the romance, the film stays largely focussed on this aspect of Hawking's life, with his scientific breakthroughs merely punctuating the narrative. It begins in misty-eyed mode as Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones) lock eyes at a university party. He's a man of chaotic confidence whose spectacular gawkiness is appealingly offset by a smattering of caddish charm. Shortly after, he's diagnosed with the debilitating condition and is given just two years to live; Jane fearlessly sticks by him and we witness the ups and downs of their life together.

Marsh has quite the CV, having helmed the nerve-shredding Shadow Dancer, part two of the beautifully brutal TV series Red Riding and the acclaimed docs Man on Wire and Project Nim. The Theory of Everything impresses too, if a little more intermittently. An admirable attempt is made to tie the visuals to both the whirlwind love affair and the scientific themes. Redmayne is astonishingly good, maintaining a robust grip on a complex character arc and showing how intellectual spark and humour can shine through a diminished shell, while Jones ably inspires sympathy and admiration in what is a surprisingly thinly drawn role, given that the film is ostensibly based on Jane's version of events.

But, despite the best efforts of its leads, The Theory of Everything never really convinces as a replication of reality, with screenwriter Anthony McCarten plumping for palatability and the occasional cinematic cliché. And yet it remains a stirring enough testament to the power of love, endurance of the human spirit and extraordinary capacity of the mind.

General release from Thu 1 Jan.

The Theory of Everything - Official Trailer (Universal Pictures) HD

The Theory of Everything

  • 3 stars
  • 2014
  • US / UK
  • 2h 3min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: James Marsh
  • Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Tom Prior
  • UK release: 1 January 2015

Stephen Hawking (Redmayne) and Jane Wilde (Jones) lock eyes at a university party, but their budding love affair is given a blow by his diagnosis of motor neurone disease. Redmayne is astonishingly good and Jones inspires sympathy and admiration, but the script is never really convincing.