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Carice van Houten
A drama documenting the life and work of the theoretical physicist Professor Stephen Hawking who, despite being diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21, has galvanized the scientific world with his ground-breaking work on the nature of the universe. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) Written by
Weaknesses in dialogue & delivery only slightly damage an engaging human story
In the 1960's, Stephen Hawking celebrates his 21st birthday at his parent's house before going out to his garden with a girl. As he lies looking up at the stars he realises he cannot move. After many tests, Stephen is diagnosed with motor neurone disease. Regardless he continues onto Cambridge to study physics. As his body starts to breakdown his mind shows no sign of stopping.
With the basic premise of mind prevailing over the failings of the body it is a surprise that no studio has had a crack at making a movie of the story prior to this (if they have I have not heard of it). I imagined that it would be turned into a cheap TVM for US daytime TV but happily the BBC got to it first. This film focuses on the Cambridge years of Hawking's life where he is diagnosed but fights on to formulate his theory of the big bang. This strand is very cleverly cut together with an interview with an interview (set in 1978) with Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson about their Nobel prize. The connection between the two wasn't known to me at the start but it does a very good job of showing the importance of both theirs and Hawking's work.
The interview section was very enjoyable simply because I didn't know where it was going and only a bit where the interviewer makes a big deal out of Penzias' German background for no reason struggles. The main thrust is a mixed bag but generally succeeds as it is an engaging human story even if you can't understand the science. Although the science is very simplified for the audience, what the film does do is translate the energy and excitement behind discovery and the mind. Not all of it works of course and there are some scenes that are distinctly weak. At the start the film states that some scenes are fictional and it is some of the weaker ones that are - I found it hard to accept the geeky Hawking chatting up a girl by talking physics to her; likewise some other scenes lack credence due to their setting and dialogue.
Cumberbatch does very well with his portrayal of Hawking considering he had no footage to work with and only was able to meet the man himself once before shooting once during it. He manages to look a little like Hawking and has got his smile down well (the smile that Hawking still has). His weak moments come when the dialogue gets a bit silly but he manages to convey the excitement of the big bang revelation as well remaining a likeable guy who's mental ability never alienated me. The support cast is mostly quite good, there is a minor straight role for John Sessions who does well, as do the guys who play Wilson and Penzias. Dillon's Jane is a bit weak and her fake tan leaves a white mark at her hairline that I found rather distracting (how shallow am I?!).
Overall this is an enjoyable little film despite it's weaknesses in the script and in the delivery at times. The basic human story is rather inspiring (even if few of us can rely on my mind to quite Hawking's degree) and the film manages to make the science rather exciting even if it fails to really explain it on much more than a childishly simplified level.
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