Monday, 30 November -0001


A warm, life-affirming story of love and loss that’s sure to win Oscars

Written by Barry Norman
Barry-Norman-176Forget the title. This is not about how Stephen Hawking’s giant brain sought an all-embracing theory to explain the whole physical universe, or how he came to write A Brief History Of Time. Indeed, there’s precious little science in it apart from mathematical calculations chalked on a blackboard, and few of us will be able to understand them anyway.

It is instead the inspiring and moving story of Hawking’s first marriage seen from the point of view of his wife Jane and based on her book, Travelling To Infinity: My Life With Stephen. It begins at Cambridge University in the early 1960s, where Hawking is a gawky young mathematician with a dry wit and a crooked, impish smile and she is an arts graduate.

Right away you know this is a film worth seeing for the two main performances alone. Eddie Redmayne is outstanding – throughout you could almost believe it is Hawking himself you are watching – and Felicity Jones as Jane pretty well matches him.

They fall in love, but then the darkness that is to overshadow their lives begins to fall when it transpires that Hawking’s habit of dropping and spilling things is not just the clumsiness of an absent-minded genius, but something far more sinister – the onset of motor neurone disease – and he is given two years to live.

They go ahead with the wedding anyway, and so we follow the progress of this highly unusual marriage as his condition deteriorates. He goes from walking stick to wheelchair and then total immobility, while Jane nurses him and gives birth to their three children.

‘It’s a different function,’ Hawking explains to a friend who wonders how someone in his condition could become a father.

Gradually, though, as it becomes clear that Hawking will survive far longer than the two years he and Jane had been expecting, the strain begins to tell, particularly on her. She stays with him as his reputation grows and A Brief History Of Time makes him world-famous, but now compromises have to be made and their marriage becomes more open.

She forms a strong friendship with choirmaster Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox), while Hawking begins a sort of platonic-intimate relationship with his nurse Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake).

All this appears to be perfectly amicable and acceptable to all parties, but you do wonder whether in reality everything was arranged quite so smoothly and whether there was perhaps more angst and pain involved as husband and wife drifted apart.

What the film shows is that in life and marriage, unlike possibly in science, there is no theory that fits everything. Things change and you must do the best you can.

But it’s a warm, life-affirming story, strongly directed by James Marsh and intelligently written by Anthony McCarten, while Redmayne’s performance, his body increasingly twisted and ravaged as the disease takes hold, must make him a shoo-in for a Bafta and very likely an Oscar. And certainly when it comes to the Bafta awards, I wouldn’t bet against Felicity Jones either.

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