(director: James Marsh; screenwriters: Anthony McCarten/based on the book “Traveling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen,” by Jane Hawking; cinematographer: Benoît Delhomme; editor: Jinx Godfrey; music: Johann Johannsson; cast: Eddie Redmayne (Stephen Hawking), Felicity Jones (Jane Hawking), Charlie Cox (Jonathan Hellyer Jones), Harry Lloyd (Bryan), Emily Watson (Beryl Wilde), Simon McBurney (Frank Hawking), David Thewlis (Dennis Sciama), Maxine Peake (Elaine Mason); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Anthony McCarten/Eric Fellner/Lisa Bruce; Focus Features; 2014)

“A smart genius biopic.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A smart genius biopic, whose subject, the prickly renown astrophysicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne), is still alive. The pic chronicles how Stephen developed his Theory of Everything despite his debilitating physical limitations. It’s directed with intelligence and deep feeling by James Marsh(“Project Nim”/”Man on Wire”/”Shadow Dancer”). The pleasing heart-warming film is based on the 2007 memoir “Traveling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen,” by his ex-wife Jane Hawking. They divorced in 1995, after a long marriage. The fine script is written by Anthony McCarten.

It begins in 1963 with a robust and healthy Cambridge physics student doctoral candidate, Stephen Hawking, an outspoken atheist, falling in love with a devout Christian, a member of the Church of England, a Cambridge coed studying medieval Spanish poetry, Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). The timid Stephen meets her at a college mixer and marries her when at age 21 he’s told he has contracted ALS (Lou Gehrig disease), a degenerative disease, and has only two years to live. That he’s not dead, as usually ALS sufferers would be in that time frame, is viewed by him as a scientific miracle

Under the watchful care of his strong-willed wife, Stephen expands his ambitious ground-breaking cosmological theories, fathers three children and learns to adjust to life in a wheelchair. In 1985 he loses his speech after a life-saving tracheotomy operation (he spoke afterwards in a computer mechanized voice).

The early scenes are brilliant–depicting a supportive doctoral adviser professor (David Thewlis) helping Stephen navigate his way through academia, and with the playful Wagner-loving Stephen endearingly mixing it up verbally with a college roommate (Harry Lloyd). When married, Stephen must deal in the 1970’s with the handsome widower church choirmaster (Charlie Cox) Jane brings into their home to help with the children and give her piano lessons. Meanwhile Stephen receives support from his attractive home nurse (Maxine Peake).

The domestic and romantic scenes are well-balanced reprieves against the necessary but far too heady science (quantum physics and Einstein’s theory of relativity) explanatory parts.

It works so well because of the perfect casting of Redmayne and Jones, who both couldn’t be better suited for their roles. In a supporting role Emily Watson is convincing as Jane’s concerned mom. What’s also impressive is Marsh’s unflinching, without sentimentality, way of telling the story through the eyes of Jane and trusting her veracity in telling what it was like to live with her world famous ALS genius husband.

REVIEWED ON 11/20/2014 GRADE: A-