The Man Who Knew Infinity
Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons star in a middlebrow yet worthwhile biopic
Elegantly crafted and unashamedly middlebrow, The Man Who Knew Infinity carries a slight whiff of mothballs as it dramatises the life of groundbreaking Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan in a manner that combines a traditional period drama sensibility with the sentimentality of Goodbye, Mr Chips. Yet the story itself is so strong and the stellar cast are so adept that you are prepared to forgive writer-director Matt Brown’s conventional approach to his labour of love.
Ramanujan (Dev Patel) was a natural born mathematical genius with no formal training. Employed in Madras as a lowly clerk to Sir Francis Spring (Stephen Fry), he is encouraged to send samples of his theories to Cambridge academic GH Hardy (Jeremy Irons) who responds by inviting him to come and study in England. Treated as an exotic curiosity, Ramanujan struggles as the academic old guard close ranks, demanding rigorous proof of work that seems to come to him instinctively, while the outbreak of the First World War stiffens the resistance to the presence of a foreigner in their midst.
The most engaging element of the film is the slow-burning friendship between Ramanujan and Hardy, a tweedy, pipe-smoking, cricket-lover more at ease with a complex theory than the messy business of emotions and relationships. Irons invests Hardy with warmth and paternalistic concern and plays well off the giddy excitement and emotional volatility of Patel, who shows a more subtle side to his range as the impetuous intellect.
The film opens with a quote from Bertrand Russell – played here by Jeremy Northam – who observes: ‘Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty.’ What follows is a worthwhile celebration of the precision and purity of the sphere, the advances Ramanujan made, and why his legacy remains so important almost a century after his death.
General release from Fri 8 Apr.