The Stephen Hawking biopic “The Theory of Everything” had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday night. And if last year’s fest is remembered as the moment it became obvious that “12 Years a Slave” was the movie to beat for the best picture Oscar race, this one could go down as the time when the lead actor awards picture became very clearly defined.
Playing the famed physicist Hawking, Eddie Redmayne delivers a remarkable portrait of a man with a beautiful, original mind humbled by a body that has failed him. Is his acting ostensibly better than the work turned in by this year’s other prime lead actor contenders -- Michael Keaton (“Birdman”), Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game”) and Steve Carell (“Foxcatcher”)? No. Absolutely not.
But it does possess all the attributes (and then some) that make up a performance that academy voters can’t resist. Redmayne plays a real character, a man felled by a disability (in this case, motor neurone disease, related to ALS) in a period film set in ... wait for it ... England.
And, most importantly, it’s a transformative piece of acting. You’ve never seen Redmayne this way. And you probably never imagined Redmayne could be this good, unless you’re a 14-year-old girl and watched “Les Miserables” like, a million times, and imagined you were Cosette and Marius was singing to you and only you.
Then again, most people don’t know (though they probably will soon enough) that the 32-year-old Redmayne (yes, he really is that old) has already won a Tony Award (2010 for “Red”) and recently played King Richard to great acclaim in a London production of Shakespeare’s “Richard II.” It’s only now that his talent, known for a decade to theater audiences, is being fully seen and appreciated by filmgoers. (Plus, dude rocks a turquoise suit like nobody’s business.)
At a lively post-screening party at Patria on King Street, two academy members couldn’t say enough about the movie, calling it the best film they’ve seen at the festival. Look for “The Theory of Everything” and its stars -- Redmayne and Felicity Jones, quite good herself as Hawking’s supportive/suffering wife -- to become fixtures on the awards circuit for the next six months. How many more jacket colors does Redmayne have in his closet? We will soon find out just how deep his rainbow runs.