Hawking (PG)

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The ViewBirmingham Review

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Review byMatthew Turner20/09/2013

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 86 mins

Engaging and moving documentary that takes an informative trip through Hawking's life and career and gains credence from being told in Hawking's own words, but there's surprisingly little in the way of personal insight and you can't help wishing the filmmakers had dug a little deeper.

What's it all about?
Directed by Stephen Finnigan and co-written by Hawking, Finnigan and executive producer Ben Bowie, Hawking is a documentary about the life, career and present day activities of Professor Stephen Hawking, narrated by Hawking himself. Hawking was studying his PhD at Cambridge in the 1960s when he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21 and given just three years to live.

However, the doctors' prognosis proved incorrect and Hawking went on to marry and have children with his girlfriend Jane Wilde before continuing his studies and becoming the world's foremost cosmologist, publishing his bestselling book A Brief History of Time in 1991. Now 71, Hawking is still extremely active, making public appearances, teaching, appearing on television, schmoozing with celebrities and, in the film's joyous conclusion, contributing to the opening ceremony of the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

The Good
Director Finnigan intercuts Hawking's narration of his life story with scenes of his day-to-day activities, including an amusing moment where he's spoon-fed champagne at a swanky shindig and a lovely sequence where he gets to experience zero gravity. He also includes many of Hawking's pop culture appearances, from his cameos in Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Simpsons, to his comedy interview with Jim Carrey and clips from the TV movie about his younger days in which Benedict Cumberbatch (who briefly pops up as a talking head) played Hawking.

On top of that, Finnigan has assembled some excellent archive material and has lined up an impressive and informative array of talking heads, including colleagues, academics, publishers, celebrity friends, his sister, his down-to-earth carer and Jane Wilde (now the first of his two ex-wives), who makes frequent contributions and talks movingly about their relationship and the causes of their break-up (it's clear they're still on good terms).

The Bad
Though the film doesn't shy away from the realities of living with Motor Neurone Disease, it's fair to say that there's very little in the way of personal insight and key perspectives are missing – none of his three children appear in the film for example, and the details of his second marriage are quickly glossed over. Similarly, the film doesn't dig much beyond the basic facts of Hawking's life and there's nothing here that you couldn't glean from, say, a quick whizz through Hawking's Wikipedia page.

Worth seeing?
Hawking is an engaging and moving trawl through Hawking's life and career but the film's refusal to dig beneath the surface is occasionally frustrating.

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Hawking (PG)
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Content updated: 20/04/2019 23:59

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