The cast/crew bit: written by Peter Moffatt, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Brandon and Lisa Dillon
The ten-word synopsis: Dramatisation of Professor Stephen Hawkings’ early days, aged just 21.
Stephen William Hawking is one of the most remarkable people alive. Universally regarded as one of the worlds’ great thinkers and bound to go down in history alongside the likes of Einstein and Newton, Hawking has done it all whilst suffering from motor neurone disease. First diagnosed when he was 21 and just headed for Cambridge, it’s here that this film lays its scene. Benedict Cumberbatch, of Sherlock fame, is Stephen Hawking, and it all plays out from there.
Cumberbatch is one of the finest actors in the British Isles, if not the world. While he doesn’t mask himself as well as the likes of Gary Oldman, it’s impossible not to get swept up in his performances. Not blessed with the many faces of Oldman, Cumberbatch instead changes his posture, his speech patterns, whatever he feels will help him best be believable in the role. There’s not a second in the film where I didn’t believe that Cumberbatch was a brilliant young scientist, even if the resemblance to Hawking is hardly uncanny. It’s perhaps in this way that the film must be watched. Not as a biopic on Hawking, but as a drama about a man struggling with adversity. Ten minutes in we see him first struggle to get up, and his slow decent into the wheelchair plays out throughout the film.
It goes without saying that this is an emotional process. Seeing a man lose the ability to use his body is bad enough, but it’s Hawkings’ desire that burns through as the heart of the film. He wanted to achieve something, driven by the fact that he supposedly didn’t have long to do so. Cumberbatch nails this. He looks desperate in every scene, a raw emotion pouring through face and what limited body language he has to work with in equal measure. The spasms and struggles with his muscles also both look believable, which, considering this is a TV movie and hence not especially well-shot, is a real testament to him.
As for the actual science, whilst probably slightly patronising to those familiar with the inns and outs of time and space, it was explained in a way that made sense to somebody with a brain as easily melted as me and didn’t feel dumbed down in the slightest. But, at the end of the day, it’s a film about a character, rather than what the character is doing, and the science is just a conduit to seeing Hawkings’ determination and genius in full flow. There’s one teriffic scene in particular in which Hawking chats up a girl at a bar using only Einsteins’ theory of relativity. It sounds cringe-worthy when first suggested, as it no doubt did there, but is really nicely executed. Kudos must go to writer Peter Moffat for scripting a number of real grin-baiting moments, not just to Cumberbatch for performing them with the panache they deserve.
You’ve got to look at Hawking as a TV movie, which it is, rather than a ‘proper’ film. If you do so, it’s outstanding. It feels a bit televisual, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing- It’s well written and has a brilliant performance at heart from Benedict Cumberbatch, who seems able to pull off almost anything. But, at the end of the day, it’s an inspiring story of a truly remarkable man, one the like of which the world may never see again. Let’s be glad they did his story justice.
6 scenes of Cumberbatch drowning himself in a bath out of 10