Suffice to say, both of these biopics about extraordinary men left me feeling like the most underachieving 37 year old that ever lived. One managed to overcome the most enormous physical challenges to make massive scientific discoveries and then write books about them, while the other managed to, by my age, spearhead a massive civil rights movement and make huge steps forward for African Americans. As for me? Well, I have a blog 😉 Despite the feeling of underachievement though, what did I make of The Theory of Everything and Selma? Read on…
Going into this film I knew very little about Stephen Hawking – I even (prepare to be shocked) thought he was American, since that is how his automated voice sounds. But, clearly not so. This biopic tells the story of Stephen’s early career – and his relationship with wife Jane. It is actually based on a book written by Jane herself, so it should be no surprise that the movie is as much about her as it is about him. We meet them at Cambridge University – where he is struggling to choose a PHD topic and she is an arts student. This is before he is diagnosed with motor neuron disease, but that doesn’t take long.
It is impossible to talk about this film without talking about the two lead performances. Much has been said of Eddie Redmayne’s depiction of Hawking, which is simply incredible. And brave, given the character he is playing is still very much alive, and was involved to an extent in the making of the film. But the same can be said of Felicity Jones’ role as Jane – which she plays with a calm restraint that all acting students should pay careful attention to. It was the moments with her struggling with the role she had very much chosen – as carer and wife for the head strong scientist – which really gave this film its heart.
One thing I wasn’t expecting was for the film to be so beautifully shot – I had to check that it wasn’t a Joe Wright film as it had that feel to it. One scene early on during the May Ball at Cambridge was a particular highlight. But clever use of camera shots and beautiful little scenes made this a cut above your usual biopic. The script also – by kiwi Oscar nominee Anthony McCarten – was also tight yet brilliant. And much funnier at times that you would expect when dealing with these kinds of issues. This film is a real tour de force – honest, heart-breaking yet heart-warming, inspiring and stunning to watch. Impossible to fault so it gets a solid 5 M&Ms from me.
Civil rights, American politics, small town America – all of these things fascinate me, so a movie centred around these things – and in particular Martin Luther King’s attempt to use Selma, Alabama as a battle ground to ensure African Americans were actually allowed to vote – should have been a winner for me. Alas, it wasn’t. Although it shares quite a bit of cinematic DNA with The Theory of Everything – a biopic about a well known person achieving amazing things – it lacked the very things that made Theory so impressive. Which is a damn shame, as this is a story that deserves to be told well.
I didn’t know anything about Selma, Alabama going into this – and was fascinated to watch the way that King and his associates worked the system to ensure they got media – and therefore public – attention focused on the issues of importance to him. His relationship with President Johnson (played admirably by Tom Wilkinson) was also intriguing – they shared much more of an open dialogue than I knew about. And initially I was impressed with the way the film didn’t flinch with depicting King as a flawed man – in particular in relation to his marriage. Inclusion of his wife’s perspective on things – in particular the death threats she and their children, not to mention her husband, regularly received – indicated this was going to be a more than simply a by the numbers biopic.
And in places this film did pack a real punch – in particular during the several run ins between the non-violent marchers and the overly violent police and state troopers. Much has been made of the parallels with today’s America, in which black men are still punished and killed by white police (and civilians), with disturbing frequency. And if anything – the movie was useful to stir up more debate about that. However, as a biopic I found it ultimately lacked drama and intensity. King was a master orator – and at times this film demonstrated that – but the rest of the time it just felt like one person was making a little speech, then another, then another. The dialogue could have done with some Aaron Sorkin back and forth, that’s for sure. By the time the pivotal speech came around at the end, I couldn’t wait for the credits to roll. I was just bored, and the end felt very anticlimactic. Which is a massive shame as Brit David Oyelowo’s performance was pitch perfect and definitely Oscar worthy (though the Academy didn’t see fit to even give him a nod – but more on that next week). The other performances were also good, but with a better script and maybe some editing they would have seemed even better. Only 3 and a half M&Ms for this one. (And fingers crossed Paul Greengrass gets around to his long awaited Martin Luther King biopic, centred around his assassination, soon…)
For those keeping track, I only have one Best Picture nominee left to see – The Imitation Game. I intended to see if on Thursday but decided to see Kingsman at IMAX instead (which was freaking incredible, even the second time). For my blog reading public though, I will aim to get you my Imitation Game review and Oscar picks next weekend!