At first, this film sounds like it might be a bit dull. At least, I thought so – a film about the personal life of a physicist didn’t exactly sound like Die Hard to me. However, Stephen Hawking has made an incredible mark on history, and his scientific thought is truly ground breaking. His struggle with Motor Neurone Disease is brilliantly depicted by director James Marsh, who provokes the audience’s sympathy and enables us to learn more about this horrific disease at the same time.
The story begins in the narrow streets of Cambridge, where Stephen is attending university. Though obviously a genius, he does things that regular, run-of-the-mill, generally average students would do – attending parties, avoiding work and sleeping until midday being some of them. How very typical! It’s great because it immediately disproves your prior assumptions; that he was completely focused on his physics, and that he didn’t have time for socialising or fun of any sort.
He falls in love with Jane, an arts student who returns his love, in spite of their differences. Tragedy strikes when Stephen is diagnosed with ALS (in case you’re wondering what that is, it’s that disability people did the Ice Bucket Challenge for in summer 2014), and Jane is told to get out of Stephen’s life. He is given only 2 years to live by the doctors. Jane steadfastly refuses to leave him, and the triumphant story of the couple begins. We follow them in sickness and in health - through births, affairs, fights, drunken escapades and medical emergencies, until the film ends with Dr. Stephen Hawking receiving his CBE – a high honour from the Queen.
The progress of Stephen’s disease is truly heartbreaking, as the frustration of this brilliant man grows more and more apparent. When he loses the ability to speak, I’ll warn you, it’s not easy to watch. Even the most hardened cinemagoer cannot help but feel saddened at what he’s going through. There are a fair amount of surgical scenes, so if you aren’t very good with that then make sure you look away.
The only noticeable plot hole is that when Stephen is only given 2 years to live, it’s not really explained how he managed to survive long past that. I think perhaps we are supposed to assume science had advanced rapidly, and somehow got around the problem of his breathing system shutting down. It probably did, but perhaps a quick few (obvious, for those of us who aren’t scientifically-minded) references for how improvements directly extended his lifespan would have helped.
Stephen Hawking is played by up-and-coming British actor Eddie Redmayne, who you may have seen as Marius in Les Miserables. Jane Hawking is played by another up-and-coming actress, Felicity Jones, who was briefly in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 earlier in the year. They were both extremely convincing as the couple, and you could easily believe that they loved each other dearly, even with the strain of the disease taking its toll on them. You watch them both age over the decades – as time changes the furniture and the fashion around them, but one thing that doesn’t change is Jane’s obstinate commitment to Stephen.
Perhaps this is why the film is up for so many BAFTAs. It’s been nominated for ten awards, including Best Film, Best Director and both Best Leading Actor and Actress. With such an impressive reception, you might expect it to win the most prestigious of all awards – an Oscar – in the coming weeks.