Running time: 109 minutes
Written by: Jack Thorne based on Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss
Directed by: Marjane Satrapi
Featuring: Rosamund Pike, Sam Riley, Aneurin Barnard and Anya Taylor-Joy
Pierre Curie: “Your main problem, Marie, is your arrogance.”
Marie Curie: “My main problem is you. And the fact that I love you so utterly.”
Released recently on DVD is the biographical film “Radioactive” (2019) based around the adult life of Marie Curie the physicist and chemist who became famous for her studies into radioactivity, she was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and the only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice, and the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two scientific fields. The film is led by the central performance of Rosamund Pike who once again features in a true story playing a real life person, but like her recent efforts in other biographical films she outshines the movie she appears in, which only seems to illustrate the deficiencies in the entire film.
When films are produced about real people, especially those that have changed the course of history or effected it in some way there may be a feeling that just explaining that or highlighting it is enough, but this is rarely the case. There have been some truly excellent biographical films produced that have become timeless, two that spring to mind are “Laurence of Arabia” (1962) and “Gandhi” (1982). What both of these have in common are of course the importance of their central person, the fact that they were helmed by legendary directors who both had a passion for their subject, actors that inhabit their parts, a budget that reflected their importance and scope to reign in a plot that could be sprawling and unwieldy in lesser hands.
“Radioactive” commences in 1934, Marie Curie collapses in her laboratory in Paris. As she is rushed to the hospital, she remembers her life. In 1893 she was frequently rejected for funding due to her gender but entered a partnership with Pierre Curie. After Marie discovered polonium and radium, the two fell in love and got married, having two children. Soon, Marie announces the discovery of radioactivity, revolutionising physics and chemistry. This is a bit of back and forth in terms of narrative which may have been original decades ago but now feels very non cinematic as well as reminiscent of a movie of the week, boring, staid and routine.
The film adapted by Jack Thorne and directed by Marjane Satrapi does feel uninspired, the passion for the film feels lacking as well as unimaginative, and for a subject who was nothing but creative and imaginative feels simplistic and crowded with small rooms, no light, just repression. The possible issue lies within the two creatives behind the camera who have either had little real experience in Satrapi and Thorne who has experience but in staid English dramas or formulaic dramas, not what was required with “Radioactive”. This should have been a film that forced its way into the light, juxtaposed images and showed a woman alive for she must have been to accomplish what she did.
What should be a gripping look into the final years of a woman that faced dangers as well as her own fears is actually quite a dry almost clinical piece of work that does shine especially in the main performance given by Rosamund Pike who expertly portrays someone who is a three dimensional character that battles with someone or something in almost every scene, at times as a viewer you feel exhausted as you witness what seems inevitable but at the same time wishing the outcome was not set in stone as of course it is. I found myself wondering what this movie would have looked like in the hands of a writer and director who had more experience as well as a vision of a story that would grab an audience offering a narrative as well as real social commentary which would have offered an equally as well as compelling plot to back up the great central performance.
In saying that I do recommend this movie, it is an education if a bit of a slog, it feels like it could have made a much better long form series or documentary with re-enactments instead of yet another Rosamund Pike led movie of the week, remember this is the actress who was in the explosive “Gone Girl” (2014), I hope this does not remain the nadir of her career.