A tribute to filmmaking’s ongoing commitment to the Noah’s Ark principle (two of everything, even biopics of pivotal British intellectuals), this is a more sentimentally uplifting experience than Imitation Game. If that film was a detective story, this is a love story, following the gravitational pull two bodies (Steven and Jane Hawking, played by Edie Redmayne and Felicity Jones respectively) continue to have on each other many years after first flirting with each other’s orbits.
The theme of the awkward, essential marriage is never far away in this film, whether it be the marriage of Steven (ever the teaser, ever flexible in his assumptions) and Jane (sensitive and constant), of science and faith, or quantum mechanics and relativity (those peas and potatoes). The filmmakers should be commended for slipping in more than a few references to Hawking’s area of expertise. Was the intercutting of the camping trip with the opera melodramatic hokum, or an ingenious demonstration of the ‘spin’ proposition of quantum mechanics on a level more easily understood? I also appreciated the closing nod to Hawking’s oft-employed thought experiment of reversing time, applied here to the narrative universe. (Appropriate to Hawking’s theory, the endpoint is not the inciting incident, but the point of no return, since his Big Bang was preceded by a Big Crunch.)
More decorative thoughts. Redmayne’s gormless smile is hard to resist, as is Jones’ patience and vulnerability. Johan Johannson’s score finds ways to fall in empathetically behind the characters – in particular during the croquet game, and the melodrama of their third child’s christening. The imagery of Steven and Jane struggling with domestic life has a more real air than Imitation Game’s mise-en-scene (and I’m not just talking about the faux home video material that bridges narrative movements), although perhaps that’s quibbling over shades of classicism. (The film softens the experience of Lou Gehrig’s disease if only by cutting out the boring bits.)