Thanks for all the positive responses to yesterday’s story – please keep them coming, whether positive or negative. Holly got the right answer to the question, who said ‘am I an oat?’ It was Monica to Richard in ‘Friends’ – one of the best lines in the show, in my opinion. Richard was a great character and Tom Selleck played him to perfection. But it’s one thing to play fictional characters which you can make your own; and quite another to play real people, especially when those people are still alive.
Stephen Hawking was given two years to live in 1963 when diagnosed with motor neurone disease *. You can’t help feeling sorry for his wife at that time; marrying him, she thought she knew what she was taking on – two years of illness and then widowhood. However hard that would have been to deal with, the reality was surely harder – nursing a severely-disabled man as well as bringing up several children without any help in an age before technological advances enabled him to speak and move himself, would put a strain on the strongest of marriages.
But the main problem with playing real live people is treading that line between interpretation and caricature. You need to play someone and not mimic them, and that must be hard. Michael Sheen does it well and Eddie Redmayne does a very good job here of showing progressive disability, allowing Hawking’s character to shine in his eyes and what facial expressions he is able to muster, as well as through his witty speech: when asked why he no longer supported his first theories about time, Hawking replies: ‘I predict that I was wrong.’
It’s tempting to wonder whether without the disease he would have produced the work: whether, if his own time had not been predicted to be so short, he would have concentrated his efforts so much as to produce the theories he is now known for. It is of course impossible to say; but what is definitely true is that whenever great efforts and huge achievements are involved, there is always a price to pay – and it’s often those around the Great Man (it’s usually a man) who pay it. Hawking’s marriage did eventually break up and he married his nurse (nicely played as a smug, conniving woman by Maxine Peake) and you can’t help thinking that here were two people who did their utmost in impossible circumstances – especially his wife.
I spent the whole of last year wanting to see this film and now I’m really glad I did. It’s out on DVD so get hold of a copy.
*incidentally, is it really wrong that whenever I hear this I can’t help thinking ‘neuter moron disease’?