It's a curious film. At its heart is a rather interesting question: How do you live with and love a person with a debilitating and degenerative illness? Furthermore, if one adheres to the old adage of taking a partner on through sickness and health, is it ever acceptable to to break that vow? Under similar circumstances, what, asks the film, would you the viewer do? Food for thought indeed.
It ought to be remembered of course that this film is based upon Mrs Hawking's memoirs, Travelling to Infinity: My life with Stephen. If at times then it feels a trifle apologetic or even ever so slightly self-justifying perhaps it is only to be expected. And yet one can't help but feel there is nothing to apologise for. Marriages do break down, even ones when one of the partners is suffering from an horrendous illness such as motor neurones disease. The niggling doubt here is that the major, if not only reason for the breakdown appears to be the arrival into the Hawking household of a third party.
The entrance of Jonathan (Charlie Cox) into the family circle - a choir leader - and clearly a very suitable match for Mrs Hawking is the catalyst that
threatens to tear the Hawkings apart. Inevitably, the couple do drift apart, Stephen deeper into his quest to solve the mysteries of the universe while Jane's concerns are of a more earthly nature. But is she right? Should duty come before desire? Should Self interest ever come before the interest of a partner, particularly one fighting a daily battle to survive? These are not questions easily answered. At least not in this film.
Back in 2004 the BBC's Hawking, starring Benedict Cumbernatch as the acclaimed physicist, pretty well said it all with regards to Professor Hawking's remarkable life. The Theory of Everything had a lot to live up to then. So, does it bring anything new to the table?
Like the BBC's Hawking the cut and thrust of intellectul life in1960s Cambridge is lovingly brought to life as we are immersed in a rather charming, yet distant world of bicyle bells, tweed jackets and pints of frothy beer. We also bear witness to the physicist's gradual physical decline as motor neurone disease besieges the body of a 21 year-old man for whom life was only just beginning. Quid pro quo.
Where this film differs from Hawking though is in its charting of the relationship between husband and wife. It's a bold move and one that enters new territory, setting it apart from the BBC's 2004 take. Hawking is shown as a true family man and the couple's relationship almost idyllic until the arrival of Jonathan. This is the point where the film really engages with our emotions. For Mr Hawking draws only our sympathy. How then could someone ever hurt this man, a vulnerable, helpless one to boot? How could she..? That is the dilemma faciing Jane Hawking as she comes to the realisation that her feeliings towards her husband have changed. Tough call.
On the surface it appears that Stephen gives his blessing to his wife's growing intimacy with Jonathan, but one is left wondering whether this is an act of supreme selflesssness or a true sign of a marraige that had run its course. And when Stephen opts to tour America with his new carer Elaine (Maxine Peake) in preference to his wife, one can't help but take this as a sign that the separation is indeed mutual. Thus the film is clear in not apportioning blame either way. Ultimately the film clearly suggests that sometimes there is no guilty party, love simply breaks down as it often does, disability or not.
How you view this film however will depend very much on your own values. Remember Jane Hawking spent meny years as the wife of a genius, but one who was, at the end of the day, unable to wipe his own nose. As a piece of film-making it certainly goes beyond Hawking in its subject matter thereby illuminating a part of the physicist's life that was hitherto unknown to the casual observer.
The question left hanging in the air - one must assume deliberately so - is, did Stephen Hawking ever truly fall out of love with his wife? Did Jane Hawking behave honourably? Can love overcome everything? Even severe physical disability?
Ultimately The Theory of Everything rather fittingly raises many more questions than it actually answers. Now that's surely something Professor Hawking would heartily approve of...