Posts Tagged ‘Marie Curie’

Rosamund Pike as Madame Curie

“RADIOACTIVE” My rating: B (Amazon Prime)

109 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Not content with the limitations of a conventional biopic, Marjane Satrapi’s film about Marie Curie blows up the form, not just depicting the life of a great scientist but exploring what over the decades her discoveries have meant to the world.

As suggested by the piece’s unconventional title — “Radioactive” — the fallout (pun intended) of Curie’s groundbreaking work is not entirely life-affirming.

Satrapi,  who first came to fame with her graphic novel Persepolis (about growing up in and then fleeing post-revolutionary Iran) and the 2007 animated feature based on it, has a lot of her mind here.  Perhaps too much for tidy presentation.

Happily she has as her lead Rosamund Pike,  whose work in recent years — especially “Gone Girl” and “A Private War” — has catapulted her into the first ranks of film actresses. Even when “Radioactive” threatens to fly out of control, Pike keeps things centered.

Beginning late in the 19th century and extending past Curie’s death in 1934 (poisoned by all the radioactive material she had handled over a lifetime), the film hits the usual biographical landmarks: Marie’s meeting and marriage to fellow physicist Pierre Curie (Sam Riley), her discovery of the elements radium and polonium, the death of Pierre and her years as a widow still devoted to scientific research. During World War I she traversed the front in a truck outfitted with primitive X-ray equipment that allowed military doctors to locate the bullets and shrapnel in the bodies of wounded soldiers.

But Jack Thorne’s screenplay (based on Lauren Redniss’ graphic novel Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout) also leans heavily  on the feminist aspects of Curie’s story, especially her fights with a chauvinistic scientific establishment (embodied by Simon Russell Beale’s university bigwig) and her resentment of Pierre, who accepted their Nobel Prize while Marie stayed at home with the kids (“You stole my brilliance and made it your own”).

The film devotes considerable time to one of the more controversial parts of Curie’s story, her post-Pierre affair with a married co-worker (Aneurin Barnard). The relationship created an uproar: this Polish “harlot” was besmirching the sacred institution of French marriage.  (I know, I know…the French have a long history of besmirching marriage.)  Don’t recall that incident even being mentioned in the sanitized 1943 Greer Garson version of the yarn.


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Karolina Gruszka


100 minutes | No MPAA rating

Well, this certainly isn’t your Greer Garson version of physicist Marie Curie.

Marie Noelle’s film is about the trials the brilliant Curie endured because she was a woman in a man’s world; it’s also about the  affair with a married co-worker that nearly scuttled her chances for a second Nobel Prize and admission to the French Academy of Science.

This combination of feminism and heavy breathing could have been a recipe for diaster.  But Noelle and co-writer Andrea Stoll keep all the parts in narrative and emotional balance, with the result that “Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge” feels low-keyed and classy even when its leading lady is lounging about in the altogether.

The film begins with the idyllic marriage of Marie (Karolina Gruszka) and Pierre Curie (Charles Berling), partners both in life and in the lab. They’re raising a large family, experimenting with radium as an anti-cancer therapy, and sharing a Nobel Prize for science. In just a few quick, impressionistic scenes director Noelle depicts their blissful, fulfilling lives.

Then Pierre is killed in a street accident, and Marie is left to continue her work alone.  Well, not exactly alone.

Her colleague Paul Langevin (Arieh Worthalter)  provides intellectual and, to a degree, moral support as Marie comes to terms with Pierre’s death. Eventually the attraction gets physical.

Paul has a rather common wife who wants him to give up pure science for a well-paying job in industry. Eventually the wronged spouse steals love letters between her husband and Marie and launches a very public scandal. Marie’s sexual transgression only proves to the stick-in-the-muds of academia and science that a woman has no business in their calling. (That plenty of male scientists keep a mistress without anyone raising an eyebrow is just one more example of the double standard at work.)


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