The Theory Of Everything - Cinema Review

'its drama is borderline inert, its conflict minimal, its characters abandoned to the mercy of flaccid storytelling'

I have seen some critiques of The Theory Of Everything which suggest that its genre is broken, that it falls into some of the holes that have been fallen into again and again by Biopics. In some ways this seems unfair on Biopics. There is something beloved about the genre that at the same time could, under critical eyes, be seen as its downfall. It is unique in its incessant ability to rewrite history for its own ends and our entertainment and yet, the way it does that, the way it makes sometime unpalatable life events comfortable, is exactly why we love it and why the genre returns again and again with new successes.

The Theory Of Everything is not, by the Biopic's high watermark, one of those successes. Not only does it fall into the genre's problems, it does so with such a restrained and tepid 'Englishness' that its drama is borderline inert, its conflict minimal, its characters abandoned to the mercy of flaccid storytelling, its lensing and camerawork the type which feels that spiralling around a spiral staircase is the height of invention. The Theory Of Everything is not a bad film because it is a Biopic: it is a good example of what can go wrong when Biopics become lazy.

That James Marsh is behind this, an undoubtedly skilled director whose work on Shadow Dancer and Man On Wire is particularly good, is incredibly surprising. Marsh glosses over narrative points of interest, minimises tragedy and reduces key parts of the story to Jane (Felicity Jones) pouting silently in a corner. It's not ill-handled or clumsy, rather wilfully as bland as possible; not just broad but apparently concerned only with telling the salient points of what should be a complex tale. Hawking's diagnosis is unbelievably brief; a tick box exercise along the ruled line of plot points. If you thought The King's Speech was a mediocre film designed to appeal to the British middle class then this is your worst nightmare.

For all of the bungled execution though, there are reasons to see The Theory Of Everything, and to enjoy it in large swathes. Though abandoned by the storytelling, Jones is both charming and convincing. As Stephen Hawking, Eddie Redmayne gives a surprisingly dynamic and committed performance, his almost perma-smile both an indication of Marsh's happy-clappy 'everything is OK' direction and of the real-life character's humour and warmth. It might not win him an Oscar, but it is one of the year's best portrayals.

Marsh's film as a whole though, including Redmayne, is very hard to root for, even if it may be easy to get on with and to at least enjoy in part. The Theory Of Everything is, like many of the best biopics, a coherent boiled-down watch. But simultaneously it represents everything bad about that formula, everything the Biopic naysayers will have you believe is an affliction on every entry in this genre.




The Theory Of Everything is released in UK cinemas on Thursday 1st January 2015.


By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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