Film review: Hawking is a portrait for the fans


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The Independent Culture

The story of a remarkable man, unremarkably told. Stephen Hawking knows his own value: "I was born in 1942, exactly 300 years after Galileo." The Larkin-esque student in 1960s Oxford didn't work that hard, allegedly, so natural was his brilliance, and he ascended greater heights of achievement at Cambridge.

The motor neurone disease to which the 21-year-old scientist then fell prey was expected to kill him within three years; it didn't, and he continued to pursue the "big questions" of cosmology even as his body closed down on him.

Stephen Finnigan's documentary, co-written with Hawking, has the unwavering blandness of an Authorised Life. Divorce from his wife and helpmeet Jane, then a second divorce from his one-time nurse, are tidied away: "Being in the public eye can have its drawbacks," he says in that computerised voice that seems to face down argument.

No one will dare to pay him the honour of suspicion. He enjoys his global fame – why should he not? – though the contributions of celebrity friends such as Branson and Jim Carrey are faintly sickening. It's a portrait for the fans – earnest, uplifting, frictionless.