TAKING my seat at Stratford Picturehouse last Thursday evening, I mistakenly thought I was about to watch a docudrama starring Benedict Cumberbatch as a young Stephen Hawking.
Maybe there was a lesson to be learnt here about conducting more thorough research but in this case my mistake happened to be a fortunate one.
The 2013 release of Hawking turned out to be a heart-warming documentary about the life of Britain’s top scientist, who was at the heart of the writing, production and narration.
Stratford Picturehouse was just one of 70 cinemas throughout the country to screen the film’s UK gala premiere, shortly followed by a Q&A with Stephen Hawking and guests, which was streamed live from the Cambridge Film Festival.
Through archive footage, flashback reconstructions and interviews with friends and family - including that man Cumberbatch - the film tracked the remarkable journey of the Cambridge professor, who was told he had only two years to live after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 1963.
Now, aged 71, Hawking delights in continuing to prove the medics wrong.
Such close collaboration with him during the filming process is no doubt responsible for this remarkably honest and intimate portrait of his life.
Most apparent was his persistent sense of humour – from hiring his carer based simply on her ability to make poached eggs, to pretending to run over Hollywood actor Jim Carrey’s foot with his wheelchair – the constant “threat of an early death” has clearly done little to dampen his lively spirit.
Where the film was illuminating and inspirational, the live Q&A that followed was something of a disappointment.
Channel 4 newsreader Krishnan Guru-Murthy made an awkward presenter to the evening’s proceedings and repeatedly talked over his guests as they attempted to answer the questions put to them.
But it was the embarrassing lack of foresight demonstrated by Q&A organisers that resulted in uncomfortable silence, as they failed to arrange exactly how Professor Hawking would get onto the stage – forcing his carers into an undignified five-minute struggle to push his wheelchair down a narrow aisle.
That said, the movie itself was thought-provoking and made complicated science accessible, whilst the comments from Professor Hawking and his fellow filmmakers at the Q&A only served to enrich the experience. Having got onto the stage, his views on the brain being able to exist outside the body, certainly got us looking forward as well as back.
Though the film is an unlikely contender for Oscar glory, this is, perhaps, an injustice; it was certainly a pleasant surprise that should not be overlooked.
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