Monday, 7 September 2020

Radioactive (2019)

Most of us have some idea about the mark in history made by Marie Curie, radiography and x-rays, but I certainly didn't know much of the detail of her professional and personal life, personality traits and troubles she faced from challenges from the establishment in achieving what she did a century ago until I watched this film.

Based on the book by Lauren Redniss, it tells the story based on fact (the Marie Cure Wiki Page does seem to present similar facts and timeline of events to this film). Born Marie Sklodowska-Curie in Poland to scientific-minded atheist father and a mother who she had to watch die at a young age from TB ensured that she was interested in the understanding of science and not anything with no evidence. This theme is returned to throughout the film, particularly surrounding seance which was popular at the time and some claiming to be 'science'.

Marie moved to Paris where she could avail herself of better scientific opportunities and whilst there met Pierre Curie, another scientist. They married and had two children throughout the course of the film's timeline. The pair worked relentlessly to make their discoveries - and the film depicts the sexist way in which the establishment tried very hard to honour Pierre with the discoveries instead of Marie. We know the history of the Nobel Prize awards and these are reflected appropriately in the film, anxiety demonstrated in keeping with the above.

Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl, Die Another Day, Jack Reacher) plays Marie as mostly the unlikeable, cold, scientific, emotionless woman that she has appeared to have been for real. Tormented by her childhood memories of her mother's death, she found it near-impossible to go to a hospital, making her science and discovery even harder. Pike does all this in her stride, depicting the person admirably. Sam Riley (Control, Maleficent) plays Pierre passively which, again, from the background looks mostly like the man's temperament. They are clearly deeply in love with each other, reflected by both throughout, but mostly when family tragedy strikes.

As for the science, I think I kept up! Understanding at the atomic level distanced me, but to be fair the presentation, though technical in a few pockets, was largely made layman-friendly. The film depicts both sides of the good and bad effects of Curie's discoveries. How it has helped, and still helps, medicine and health for people to this day, but also the timeline leaps back and forward (outside of her lifetime) to also remind the audience of the negative sides and how nations and governments have used the learning for destruction.

Talking of timeline, there are times when this has been compressed and compacted - for example during Marie's two pregnancies - only really focusing on the fact that she refused to go to hospital to give birth - and that because of this one of them was nearly lost. We jump to her deathbed in 1934 now and again, then back to her childhood and spend some time in and amongst the trenches of WWI. But this is done clearly and captions keep viewers clear about where they were.

Iranian director Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis, The Voices) keeps order and ensures that the sets reflect the poverty-stricken and glum darkness of the interiors and streets of Paris from a century ago where filth was abundant and sickness prevalent. The orchestral and solo piano music behind the scenes reflects the mood beautifully, much of it slow and dark, like the sets. Photography has been experimented with as wild vignette techniques have often been employed for flashback scenes. In these dark settings, lighting was key as it was often low and brought out deep shadows, which has been executed with ambience.

Various Brit actors turn up throughout, with varying degrees of screen-time, including Simon Russell Beale, Sian Brooke, Aneurin Barnard and Katherine Parkinson. All the performances are convincing. It was hard to find fault.

I found this to be a deeply moving story at times and an education regarding the background and achievements of this scientifically-minded woman. It has been shot very nicely and the times at which the pace was slow were countered by the compression at others. As I write, it's included in Amazon Prime - and is indeed an Amazon Studios creation. Well worth watching.

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