'The Theory of Everything': What the Critics Are Saying

James Marsh's biopic casts Eddie Redmayne as theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, opposite Felicity Jones as his first wife, Jane Wilde

The Theory of Everything stars Eddie Redmayne as theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking opposite Felicity Jones as his first wife, Jane Wilde. The James Marsh-directed biopic, based on Wilde's memoir, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, and adapted by novelist-screenwriter Anthony McCarten, also features Charlie Cox, Emily Watson, David Thewlis and Adam Godley.

The Focus Features release of the Working Title film — which features Hawking's actual voice and has received his endorsement — opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday before expanding in the weeks to follow.

Read more 'Theory of Everything': How Eddie Redmayne Became a Hunching, Humorous Stephen Hawking

See what top critics are saying about The Theory of Everything:

The Hollywood Reporter's Leslie Felperin calls it "a solid, duly moving account of their complicated relationship, spanning roughly 25 years, and made with impeccable professional polish. However, if the syrupy lows are blessedly few and far between, the highs are not much more frequent. As such, it’s something of a disappointment for fans of Marsh." Among many challenges: "how to do justice to Hawking’s scientific achievements without turning it into an illustrated lecture or lots of shots of him writing things on a blackboard with a furrowed brow; how to balance that material with drama about the marriage, especially since Stephen’s disability makes it increasingly hard for him to communicate, putting a greater burden on Jane to carry the narrative; and most importantly, how to make the ultimate dissolution of their marriage not feel like a major downer — it’s to Marsh and his collaborators' credit that the film meets those challenges as well as it does."

Additionally, "Redmayne pulls it off with enormous grace and endurance, and it’s not just the assist from prosthetic teeth and ears that helps him create an impeccable mimicry of the real man. Jones almost has the harder part in a way, even though she doesn’t have to play someone with a physical handicap, and she holds her own well, although the aging makeup and costumes are less persuasive in the final stretch. Ace cinematographer Benoit Delhomme's lush, intricately lit compositions add a splendor that keeps the film consistently watchable, even in the slower stretches. Composer Johann Johannsson piano-based score has a dainty precision with a ineffable scientific quality about it."

The New Yorker's David Denby writes, "The film, at its best, doesn’t mince words or scenes about Hawking’s disability. It’s also a revelatory portrait of his strength, including his surprising gaiety, the jokes and the ironies that he drew from God knows what reserves of energy." Still, it's "a physically detailed and touching but, all in all, rather conventional against-all-odds bio-pic. Some of the scenes are predictable," and there are unexplained "black holes" in the story: "His relationships with women in general here are baffling." Yet "Redmayne’s performance is astonishing, as eloquent, though in a different way, as Daniel Day-Lewis’ work in My Left Foot." 

Watch more The Cast of 'The Theory of Everything' on Meeting Stephen and Jane Hawking

The New York Times' A. O. Scott highlights how "the movie is poignant and honest in showing how Jane and Stephen’s marriage leaves both of them exhausted and unfulfilled." However, "it is in showing the application of that intelligence that The Theory of Everything tumbles into a black hole of biopic banality," as Marsh "seems in this case unable to capture the spirit and energy of scientific inquiry." Therefore, "like so many cinematic lives of the famous, it loses track of the source of its subject’s fame. Its Stephen Hawking is a man who endured a terrible affliction and married a heroically patient woman and also accomplished something remarkable enough to put him on the cover of magazines and earn a medal from the queen. That something, though, remains beyond the audience’s grasp."

Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan notes that "Marsh's contribution here is considerable. ... A director with a natural gift for telling stories, Marsh makes the most of McCarten's effective script. There's a real energy to his filmmaking, the ability to be intelligently dramatic without overdoing things that is ideally suited to material that would be so easy to get wrong." Additionally, "one of the pleasures of Theory is how exactly it captures this awkward, timid but unmistakable mutual attraction as it begins and flowers. The simple act of being likable on screen is no small matter, and Redmayne and Jones absolutely get it right."

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The Guardian's Catherine Shoard says it's "directed with style but a stern lack of pretension by the former documentarian Marsh, who does his best to absent himself, presumably calculating this is a story with enough substance to sustain itself without smoke and mirrors. Even the science becomes relatively digestible. ... Though Redmayne will deservedly hoover up a great swagbag of awards, Jones shouldn't go home empty-handed."

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee