It's a biopic. It's British. It features someone striving to battle a debilitating disease. And the lead performance is one that could be called transformative. Yes, The Theory Of Everything is one big chunk of tasty Oscar-bait. That doesn't mean that it's great.
Eddie Redmayne stars as Stephen Hawking, arguably the most famous scientist of the 21st century. When diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease, at the age of 21, he was only given about two years to live. That was in 1963. This film shows his life, from horsing around with his university chums to meeting Jane (Felicity Jones), the woman who would become his wife, and developing his theories on black holes, time and our entire universe. It is a potted history of someone who has changed the way we view both outer and inner space.
Adapting the book written by Jane Hawking, Anthony McCarten takes all of the moments that you'd expect to find here and places them exactly where they should be. There's a distinct lack of imagination and flair on display here, with the exception of one or two pleasant surprises. Overall, the film has the air of a TV movie, albeit one with a sizable budget.
Director James Marsh seems content to let his cast take on the heavy lifting, as it were, and translates the screenplay by McCarten into equally lacklustre visuals. You get snapshots of the English countryside, there's a fitting score that's always ready to swell whenever an emotional moment needs highlighted, and any bad feelings are hastily covered over or thrown into the back of a pantry, where they are left to grow and fester until they can no longer be ignored.
There's no denying, however, that the cast DO elevate the material, with Redmayne giving quite a superb physical performance as Hawking. He's cheeky, charming, stubborn, pained, and much more besides, often all at once. Jones also does very well in her role, although she suffers from the fact that her character is landed with most of the heavy-handed, emotional fare. Sorry, that should say "most of the heavy-handed, EMOTIONAL fare". David Thewlis is a delight in his supporting role, playing a teacher who also becomes a friend to Hawking, Charlie Cox is nice enough, and Maxine Peake livens things up slightly in the last third of the film, playing the nurse who would make Hawking lovestruck again.
The Theory Of Everything is a pretty poor film. It's predictable, it's bland, and it doesn't even feel as if it goes deep enough into the minds of the main characters. Those central performances help to lift it just above the realm of average, with Redmayne doing such a great job that I wish he'd had a better movie to star in.