Stephen Hawking Biopic Has Oscar Bait Down to a Science

The upcoming Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything is set to debut at the Toronto Film Festival next month, and after the release of the film’s trailer it’s clear the movie will likely be a frontrunner at the Oscars and other awards ceremonies this year. Directed by James Marsh, the film is based on the memoir Traveling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen by Hawking’s wife Jane and focuses on Hawking’s early years at school in Cambridge, just as he was discovering his talent, meeting the fellow student he’d fall in love with, and being diagnosed with the illness that would shape the rest of his life.

The story promises to be inspirational as we watch Stephen and Jane together overcome the disease that was projected to kill the brilliant astrophysicist within two years. Hawking will be portrayed by Tony-winning actor Eddie Redmayne, who will be a shoe-in for a Best Actor nod at least for portraying the scientist as disease degenerates his body and he makes his most important scientific discoveries. Redmayne takes Hawking from an able-bodied college student to one of the most genius minds of our time confined to a wheelchair. Felicity Jones plays Jane Hawking, and could also earn herself an Oscar nomination for her role as Stephen’s endlessly supportive wife, which saw Jones having to pull off a difficult accent.

Marsh is already an Oscar-winning director, having won for his documentary Man on Wire, which chronicled French tightrope walker Phillipe Petit’s tightrope walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. Petit’s walk lasted nearly an hour and led to his arrest once he completed the stunt. Marsh’s documentary is set up like a heist film and captures both the thrill of the crime and the beauty of the artistic performance in Petit’s feat.

Marsh told Deadline recently that his goal with The Theory of Everything was to focus on the love story between Stephen and Jane rather than to make a straightforward biopic about the story of Hawking’s life. “That’s the heart of it for sure and that’s definitely the way I approached it as a filmmaker as well as with the two leads. That’s really the essence of the story, it’s a very unusual love story in a very strange environment, a very strange sort of landscape, and that is I think the abiding theme of the film. It is how these two characters, these two real people transcend all the complications and curveballs that life throws at them,” Marsh said.

What’s not clear from the trailer is the messy end of Jane and Stephen’s story, which is presented in an unflinching manner in her memoir. Unable to handle the role of providing Stephen with 24-hour care as well as being his wife and responsible for the needs of the family, their marriage ended badly, with Stephen marrying one of his nurses and Jane marrying a family friend. None of this is hinted at in the trailer, which presents Jane and Stephen’s love story as almost flawless aside from his illness.

The Theory of Everything is one of the most anticipated premieres at the Toronto Film Festival, a good start for any film looking to perform well on the awards show circuit. Oscar voters have always had a thing for a good tearjerker of a biopic, awarding actors for portraying real historical figures in movies from Charles Laugton as Henry VIII in 1933 to Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in 2011. Given the heart-wrenching subject matter and the award-winning actors and filmmakers involved, Theory is likely to be a frontrunner at the Oscars and other big awards ceremonies.

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