As I said in yesterday’s Oscar Beat article focusing on The Imitation Game, the awards season is always prime time for biopics. At the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival—which acts as a sort of launching pad for much of the season’s awards fare—there were two high-profile films based on the lives of historical figures that screened for audiences. The Imitation Game took the non-traditional route, turning the life of Alan Turing into a sort of spy thriller, while the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything is pretty standard as far as the genre goes (read Phil’s review here). However, director James Marsh’s drama is rendered highly emotional by two absolutely stellar lead performances by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, which will undoubtedly land them in the frontlines of the Oscar conversation. More after the jump.
The Theory of Everything uses the throughline of Hawking’s groundbreaking work in physics to touch on his early days at Cambridge, diagnosis with motor neuron disease, and his ensuing struggle to continue his work while becoming increasingly confined within his own mind. Redmayne is absolutely stellar as Hawking, refusing to settle for imitation and instead crafting a fully realized character in his portrayal of the brilliant physicist. He is wonderfully charming and complex when playing Hawking during his college years, and does fantastically subtle work as Hawking’s disease becomes increasingly debilitating. The key to this arc—and to the entire film, really—is Hawking’s relationship with his wife Jane, played beautifully by Felicity Jones.
Jones is positively integral to making The Theory of Everything work, and the story is as much Jane’s as it is Stephen’s. The actress is more than up to the challenge, portraying Jane as a formidable partner who is also quietly hindered by the emotional toll that Stephen’s disability takes on their lives. It’s rare to see complex female characters onscreen these days, but Jones’ portrayal of Jane is a refreshing change of pace. She’s a fully realized, multi-layered character made all the more impactful by Jones’ nuanced work. It’s an extraordinary, powerful performance, and Jones is absolutely deserving of consideration in the Best Actress race (or Best Supporting Actress if Focus decides to go that route, even though this is undoubtedly a lead role).
Expect Redmayne to be a strong presence in the Best Actor race as well, which is shaping up to be highly competitive this year with other TIFF breakouts from The Imitation Game’s Benedict Cumberbatch and Foxcatcher’s Channing Tatum and Steve Carell, not to mention the high praise that Michael Keaton has garnered from Birdman. The Theory of Everything is a breakout turn for Redmayne, and I imagine he will find much acclaim as the awards season rolls on.
The film itself is a bit tricky. It’s a fairly standard and straightforward biopic—unremarkable really—but it’s rendered incredibly emotional thanks to the astonishing performances by Redmayne and Jones (I may or may not have been wiping away tears a couple of times). It’s entirely possible that Academy members might fully embrace the film with nods in multiple categories, including Best Picture, or this might just be a case of acting-only consideration. It’s tough to tell at the moment, but response out of TIFF to the film overall has been positive, with some raves here and there. Marsh does a fine job staging the film and his direction is solid, but again, it doesn’t really stand out the way Morten Tyldum’s work on The Imitation Game does.
Speaking of which, that’s another issue to consider with regards to The Theory of Everything’s awards chances. The Imitation Game has gotten an incredibly positive response thus far, so will there be room for two Britain-set biopics in the awards race, or will one be looked upon more favorably than the other? It’s unclear at this stage, but whatever happens I believe Redmayne and Jones will definitely be in the conversation. Jones’ performance is subtle so I sincerely hope she’s given the attention she deserves. It’s truly great work.
The only other potentially awards worthy film that Focus Features has on tap for this year is Kill the Messenger, and that skipped the festival circuit entirely. If the studio puts its full weight into a campaign for The Theory of Everything, and if the film strikes a chord with audiences and critics upon its release in November, I wouldn’t be totally surprised to see it take a route similar to the one Dallas Buyers Club (also a Focus release) or Philomena did last year—exceptional performances carrying the film into the race.
Click here to catch up on all of our TIFF 2014 coverage thus far, and peruse my other Oscar Beat dispatches from the festival below:
- Oscar Beat TIFF 2014: Benedict Cumberbatch Launches Into the Best Actor Race with THE IMITATION GAME
- Oscar Beat TIFF 2014: FOXCATCHER Enters Awards Race with Tremendous Performances from Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, and Mark Ruffalo
- Oscar Beat TIFF 2014 Edition: Part 1 – Jake Gyllenhaal, MR. TURNER, and the Return of Jason Reitman