There’s two things readers should know. First, I wasn’t exactly supremely excited for yet another period British biopic. Second, I wasn’t nearly prepared for how much I would relate to the issues explored in, as it turns out, one of the best biopics to come around in a long time. “The Theory of Everything” is emotionally potent stuff, nearly bringing this grown man to tears on more than one occasion in its telling of the trying marriage between renowned, disabled physicist Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde, the woman who would fall for him at Cambridge and eventually become his part-wife, part-caregiver.
Eddie Redmayne overcomes the common criticism of mimicry that follows any actor playing a real person, and delivers an authentic portrayal of both the man and the disease, rendering all debilitating movements as part of a fully realized character and not only flashy performance technique. In doing so, he’s finally convinced the critic in me of his lauded talents. Felicity Jones, for her part, could have faded into the background like so many supporting wives of cinematic celebrities, but instead brings a heady mix of strength and vulnerability as Jane, in a performance that’s both frustrating (in a good way) and moving in equal measure. That frustration stems from the inevitable deterioration of their marriage, and it’s resolutely harrowing to witness: the hardship of Stephen’s needs while raising a family, the call of someone else for the both of them, at a time when they need other things more than each other, and of course, the toll of ALS. These conflicts are front and center in a script that juggles them nicely, even when it threatens to rely on cliches. An early scene where Jane tears up watching Stephen struggle with a game of croquet, later scenes where Jane slowly realizes where Stephen’s priorities lay, or an ending sequence where their entire marriage is rewound through the filter of time, it’s these flourishes that put a lump in the throat regardless of any want to the contrary.
David Thewlis, Emily Watson, Charlie Cox, and Harry Lloyd round out the supporting cast to poignant effect, instilling warmth and intelligence as the Hawkings’ friends and loved ones. “The Theory of Everything” might have been just another stuffy true-life tale, but a deftly sentimental vision and two lead performances worthy of Oscar’s attention make the tragic love story on display all too real, ensuring itself a place in the short pantheon of great biopics. For all intents and purposes, “Everything” is heartbreaking.