A shoo-in. That’s what this movie is for a Best Picture Oscar nomination if not the actual hardware. And there’s no doubt that Eddie Redmayne, who gets Stephen Hawking’s every facial and body movement precisely right, and Felicity Jones, who charms as Hawking’s former wife and helpmate Jane, will be serious contenders for acting prizes. This biopic of their marriage was designed for Academy members, which is not a knock on it by any means. It’s a glorious film, beautifully shot in grand, tasteful Masterpiece Theater style. It leaves out much of what Hawking is about – namely, the scientific theory that put him on the map – but science is a tricky business for film and I doubt I would have understood it if it had been explained to me.
The story begins at Cambridge, where a young Hawking is a boy genius, well liked by his classmates and professors but awkward around girls….until he sees Jane at a party and knows she’s The One. Just as their courtship is in full bloom, Hawking, who has become “clumsy,” falls headfirst on the pavement and lands in the hospital where he’s diagnosed with ALS at age 21 with a prognosis of two years to live. At first he hunkers down in his dorm room, refuses to see or speak to anyone, but Jane is persistent and pledges to marry him, illness or not. The movie, which is based on Jane’s memoirs, tracks their marriage, the birth of their children, the deterioration of his body but never his mind and eventually their relationships with other partners (Jane falls in love with a choirmaster, Stephen with his nurse).
Redmayne and Jones, who came for our Q&A following the film, were gracious and articulate and very humbled by our standing ovation. They described their preparation for their roles – Redmaybe spent many days with ALS patients and their families, for example – and their reactions to meeting Stephen and Jane. They work as a team in the movie, each playing off the other, and there’s genuine chemistry between them. They seem like the two most likable actors ever, and I could have listened to them for hours.