The Theory of Everything (and five of the best films about scientists)
There are few scientists who have made a bigger impression on the public psyche over the last century than Professor Stephen Hawking. Best known in the scientific community for his work on astrophysics and quantum mechanics, his work has also achieved widespread recognition among the general public thanks to the approachable nature of his books, such as A Brief History of Time..., a best-seller that has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide since it was first published in 1988. What makes Hawking's achievements all the more remarkable though is that fact he has achieved all of this while battling Motor Neurone Disease, a condition that has left the scientist wheelchair-bound and able to communicate only through a speech synthesizer.
Although Hawking's story has already been the subject of TV movie produced by the BBC, as well as numerous documentaries outlining the Oxford-born scientist's achievements, his story has always been deserving of a full-length feature film and director James Marsh finally addressed that last year with his superb biopic covering Hawking's early career, The Theory of Everything.
Unless you've been living under a rock for the last twelve months you will already have heard plenty about Eddie Redmayne's brilliant portrayal of Hawking, but this is one performance that really does live up to the hype and one which earned the young Brit a well-deserved Academy Award for his efforts. Marsh's film covers Hawking's initial symptoms and diagnosis, as well as his early scientific breakthroughs, but the film also takes a personal view on Hawking's life, detailing his relationship with his wife and his frustrations with his condition.
For those of use who spent our school years enjoying the more creative subjects, the idea of a film about a scientist might seem a bit dry, but Marsh's film should put paid to any doubts and while Hawking's field of expertise might be a little beyond the understanding of most, the story of the man himself is anything but boring.
You can find the trailer for The Theory of Everything below, and while you're waiting for the film to arrive on DVD & Blu-Ray next week (May 11th), we've picked five other biopics of real-life scientists you really should see...
Charles Darwin's work on evolutionary theory is regularly held up by atheists as proof that God does not exist, but although proponents of Darwin's work such as Richard Dawkins remain provocatively vocal on the subject, Darwin's relationship with his own work was more complex. Raised a Christian and married to an extremely religious woman, Darwin struggled with the ramifications of his discoveries and it is this tension between his faith and his work as a scientist that is explored in Jon Amiel's 2009 film. Starring Paul Bettany as Darwin himself and Jennifer Connolly as his wife Emma, Amiel's film features a talented cast that also includes Jim Carter and Benedict Cumberbatch, detailing Darwin's careful attempts to balance his scientific career with his personal beliefs.
The Imitation Game
Alan Turing is without doubt one of the key figures behind the allies' victory over Nazi Germany in WWII, thanks to his work as a cryptologist at Bletchley Park, whose employees are credited with cracking the Enigma code that was so vital to the Germans' communications. Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a terrific performance here as the brilliant but socially inept Turing, whose habits included chaining his tea mug to a radiator so that it wouldn't be stolen. Turing was also the recipient of a posthumous and long overdue pardon in 2013 for his conviction on a charge of 'gross indecency' - a charge levelled against Turing at a time when homosexual behaviour was still illegal in the UK – and Morten Tyldum's film is a fitting tribute to one of WWII's most overlooked heroes.
One of the first modern scientists to study sexual behaviour in humans, Alfred Kinsey's controversial surveys and experiments led to the publication of two best-selling books on the subject and he is widely credited as as a key figure behind the 'sexual revolution' of the 1960s. Bill Condon's 2004 film stars Liam Neeson as the titular sexologist, detailing his battle with the prudish attitudes of the era and finding himself in the crosshairs of the FBI when he refuses to use his research to help its notorious director J. Edgar Hoover to “weed out" homosexuals in the bureau. As well as being a fascinating account of one of the 20th century's most important medical figures, the film also provides plenty of laugh-out-loud moments courtesy of the frequently hilarious responses of those being surveyed, illustrating an alarmingly naïve public and showing the stark change in attitudes to sex over the last few decades.
A Beautiful Mind
More a mathematician than a scientist, John Forbes Nash made several breakthroughs in algebraic geometry and, in particular, was one of the inventors of 'game theory', utilised extensively by the Pentagon's strategic units during the Cold War. However, Nash was also a paranoid schizophrenic who was convinced of a communist conspiracy to take over the U.S. government, an assertion that would see the brilliant scientist spend much of his life in psychiatric hospitals. Ron Howard's film depicting his life and career earned four Oscars, as well as a nomination for its lead actor, Russell Crowe, who delivers a career-defining performance as Nash, alongside a cast that also includes Jennifer Connolly, Paul Bettany and Ed Harris.
Mick Jackson's made-for-TV movie stars Homeland's Claire Danes as Mary Temple Grandin, a pioneer in the field of animal behaviour who overcame severe autism to become one of the most important figures in the welfare and treatment of livestock, as well as helping develop better treatments for autistic children. Grandin's unique photographic memory allowed her to visualise and map animal movements and help better understand how to treat animals more humanely in the farming industries. Danes' performance is utterly mesmerising and makes the film compelling viewing even for those with no particular interest in farming.
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