Saturday 7 July 2018

The Man Who Knew Infinity

This is a story, based on fact, about a brilliant instinctive mathematics genius from India who, so convinced by his findings and solitary work, manufactured passage for himself to England to work under the wing of a similar genius at Cambridge University, just before the first World War, who he believed would facilitate the immediate publishing of his findings. It’s also a tale of Indian traditions, culture, family loyalty, betrayal, triumph, drama and sadness one side of the world and a man 6000 miles from home dealing with the prejudices of a stuffy English society, academic traditional values and procedures.

The man in question was Srinivasa Ramanujan played by Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) most sympathetically. He was portrayed in a low-key manner, often criticised, but I think likely accurately given the young man was the other side of the world, this being his first time away from home. I think he did a fine job. Everything Jeremy Irons (The French Lieutenant's Woman, Damage) touches turns to gold, it seems, and he shone as the mentor, G H Hardy overseeing the person and the work. The rest of the cast didn’t seem stretched, nor did they have much screen-time but included Toby Jones and Stephen Fry in a small part.

The film is quite claustrophobic in many ways, much of it set inside ‘rooms’ and interiors, enabling the audience to feel what it may have been like in the academic world of the era, in a similar way portrayed by the film Shadowlands. Because of this, there wasn’t much to be said about photography, direction or sets. I think it was all pretty run of the mill, so much so that it felt at times as if it could really be a stage production.

The film also didn’t really dwell very long on the topics it covered. A fleeting courtship with the first World War, largely in the background, prejudices spilling over into violence and angst, the wrongs done by family members to others back at home, the illness suffered. They were mostly glancing blows, flirting around the main storyline and it often felt as if they had been lobbed in to try and spice up the central story, but not developed as they could have been.

Having said that, it was an enjoyable film and well acted. How much of it is the truth I don’t know, but brief research and the real-life photos at the end of the film depicting outcomes of the people involved suggests that it was adhered to pretty closely. I would recommend a viewing, but be prepared for a bit of a slow-burner with interesting character studies. At time of review, available as a part of a NowTV subscription in the UK.

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