Directed by Marjane Satrapi, written by Jack Thorne and based on the book of the same name by Lauren Redniss. After the death of her beloved husband (Sam Riley), Marie Curie’s (Rosamund Pike) commitment to science remains strong as she tries to explain previously unknown radioactive elements. Also starring: Anya Taylor Joy, Sian Brooke, Simon Russell Beale, Aneurin Barnard, Mirjam Novak and Katherine Parkinson.
Marie Curie is quite possibly the most well-known female scientist in the history of the world, her tale of passion, sorrow and misfortune in the name of discovery has been told in classrooms countless times. Her achievements are incredible and they may be shadowed by the science of today and yet their impressive nature persists. In fact, what’s probably additionally impressive is knowing that she made such brilliant discoveries all while beginning and taking care of a family, her relationship and marriage with Pierre is something else to aspire to alongside her intelligence. The film explores both her love of and dedication to science and to her husband, though its ratio falls slightly too heavily on the latter.
There’s an immediate energetic pace to the film, it’s swift and efficient in telling of Curie’s discovery of Radium but gradually you realise, it’s a little too fast and that it actually is going to speed right past this momentous, historic telling of her work and move on to the person she became after the passing of her husband. It’s wonderful to see such bright minds work together, that Pierre and Marie made each other better scientists, they simultaneously had a romance with science and each other that birthed revolutions in their world. However, it’s inevitably short lived, as Pierre’s death is the crux of the story that this film is trying to tell, it isn’t a film about a pivotal moment in history but of a woman crushed by the loss of her partner. While it is an interesting story to tell of the difficulty in balancing grief with a continuing dedication to further discovery, it shouldn’t have been the main focus of this film. With the opportunity to inspire a future generation of female scientists with an exciting depiction of Marie Curie’s unwavering passion, luminous intelligence and refusal to settle for less than she deserves, it instead chose to tell of her personal woes.
To add insult to injury, the film also includes a number of unnecessary scenes exploring 20th century America and the heinous actions that were taken to misuse Curie’s discovering in the name of war. It almost comes across as a negative slight at Curie to include so many references to the choices made by immoral men to cause carnage and destruction to innocent civilians using her work, despite having acknowledged the dangerous potential of their discovery but choosing to believe it could do more good than harm. The film chooses to negatively balance its exploration of the uses of Radioactivity, mentioning its impact on medicine much less than the atom bomb, it sends the completely wrong message and entirely confuses the purpose of a film such as this, resulting in something jarring and at odds with its overall significance. It also only briefly acknowledges the sexism and prejudice that Curie faced as a woman in a male dominated field, it would have likely been incredibly hateful and spiteful, so it would have added a larger depth or reality to it to delve a little further.
On the brighter side, ardent fans of Rosamund Pike get another feature to rally behind the beloved and occasionally underappreciated actress, or vastly underappreciated depending on who you ask. Pike gives a fantastic performance as Curie, her portrayal of her fierce dedication is extremely compelling, and captures that strong, passionate to a fault nature that led to her inspirational career. It’s formidable, emotional and captivating so being paired with the frequently miscast but hugely talented Sam Riley, made for an unbeatable combination. The pair have a fantastic chemistry, it’s beyond convincing and genuinely heart-warming to watch unfold, there’s a very practical beginning to their romance that blossoms into something full of love, respect and admiration. Riley may not get to stick around quite as long as would have been preferred but he makes a genuine impact with the time that he has, with Pierre proving to be the ultimate match to Marie. There’s also a great supporting cast, particularly in the form of Aneurin Barnard, Sian Brooke and Katherine Parkinson, each of them give events a little more personality because they can be seen in a different light than the Curies, allowing for a little bit of humour and a fair amount of dramatics. Anya Taylor Joy is always a great addition to a cast but she only gets a limited role at the end of the film so while her performance is good as always, there’s not too much to say about it.
Though the pace does become inherently too speedy, if it had been adjusted to tell more of the scientific story, it would have been perfect because it’s very enjoyable to watch and moves through an impressive amount of material in an efficient manner that you can actually take in. The direction has a great energy to it, apart from the moments where it skips ahead to a different period, it has a fantastic visual and gives a historic story while still feeling modern and vibrant. Even when the film delves into a more personal tale of sorrow, it keeps most of that energy and enough of the pace to make a smooth transition. It ticks all the boxes of what you want from a period piece; the hair, the makeup, the costumes and the physicality of it, exceptionally capturing that moment in time.
It’s entirely possible that Radioactive is perfectly true to the book its adapted from but if so, then there genuinely may have been a better choice for adaptation out there, to ensure telling the story that Curie deserves. Pike and Riley both give career highlight performances as the bright sparks that were Marie and Pierre Curie, they have a stellar chemistry and are both beguiling to watch. It begins as a story of scientific discovery, of a pioneer woman of science and loses its way into a world of grief and death, leaving a bitter taste with its missed opportunity to inspire young women to pursue science and sending hugely mixed messages about Marie’s discovery. It’s well directed and visually impressive but neither can save it from the number of disappointing choices to turn Marie’s story of passion into one of a woman broken by the loss of her husband.
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