One of the best-known figures of the modern age is scientist Madame Marie Curie. But how much do any of us really know about her? When I was offered the opportunity to view this film, I was excited. I wanted to know more about such a renowned figure but I also was curious how well the film would capture her essence. This film was well balanced, unflinching in the portrayal but still made her presence and the history accessible and interesting. I personally found Marie Curie inspiring and her relationships with her husband and children realistic.
Radioactive, a 2019 British biographical drama film directed by Marjane Satrapi, based on the graphic novel by Lauren Redniss, stars Rosamund Pike as Maria Skłodowska-Curie. It documents the life and work of Marie Curie, her meeting with her husband/research partner Pierre (Sam Riley), their discovery of polonium and radium, the birth of her children, the death of her husband and her affair with colleague Paul Langevin (Aneurin Barnard) as well as her receiving of the Nobel prize twice.
While I am somewhat familiar with Marie Curie, from school, I was not terribly familiar with her whole life history so some of the story was of great interest to me simply so I could learn more about a fascinating woman. There are several elements to the film that really assist those who might be less knowledgeable, not only with learning more about Madame Curie but also helped to make the film more accessible and engaging. One of the first choices that worked well is that the filmmakers do not attempt to tell her entire life but picked up with her initial meeting with her partner and husband Pierre Curie, using flashbacks to fill in some of her history. He is integral to her story as they worked together to achieve their results with polonium and radium and more importantly, they were completely devoted to each other. Even though Marie is an independent woman, a female scientist, and completely capable, it was for me valid to weave her story with his impact on her and not diminish his role in any way.
The next element that was an intriguing choice is that the writers do not spend time on all of the minutiae of the scientific experiments. While they are careful to illustrate the process and explain the Curie’s choices as to why they experimented on plutonium and their discovery of radiation, they do not show us the endless experiments. They instead show the passage of time through other means, such as Marie’s children being born or tagging the date of something happening. The history is skimped somewhat but it makes for a more compelling film and one that was better paced.
The final key to why the film was so engaging is that interwoven with the experiments and Marie’s life, are scenes of how her experiments and discoveries impact the future, both good and bad. We see the progression of time, we see the use of x-rays to discover broken bones, the use of radiation to treat cancer but we also are shown the dropping of atom bombs and the Chernobyl meltdown. Additionally, we are shown the ways that working with the radiation impacts Marie and Pierre’s health, along with others who work with the dangerous element. But we also get to see Marie’s enthusiasm and her reasons for her experiments, a mother who died due to illness and her sheer desire to change science, not to prove herself as a woman scientist but because she saw potential in previous scientific testing and wanted to expand the knowledge of humanity. It is also incredible to me how much she accomplished after the loss of Pierre and what a truly fundamental figure of science she is.
Along with some truly smart choices in filmmaking, I also found the cast incredibly compelling. Rosamund Pike and Sam Riley as Pierre have incredible chemistry, giving performances that illustrate the devotion and love between Marie and Pierre. Rosamund is excellent, portraying Marie in a human light, neither showing her as perfect but also illustrating the intelligence and strength of her, especially when she must move on without her beloved Pierre. Her performance is authentic and absorbing. Sam Riley does an equal and beautiful portrayal of Pierre, showing him as supportive but also a true partner to Marie, even when they disagree. The other performers such as Sean Brooke as Bronia Sklodowski and Aneurin Barnard as Paul Langevin are engaging and strong. The scenes between Rosamund and her daughters, Anya Taylor-Joy as Irene Curie and Cara Blossom as Eve Curie are also compelling and both actresses are accomplished.
While there are some slow moments, the only true element that might take away from the enjoyment and learning is that there are some small fictionalizations used in the film. While most of those are to help the plot be more appealing and to illustrate the importance of Marie’s work, some of the flashbacks or little moments of fiction might make some people not enjoy the film as much.
However, if you like biographies and films that explore history, this one will be right up your alley. It gives an inspiring look at a truly phenomenal woman in a way that highlights her successes and also paints her as a real person with dreams, desires, doubts, and fears. While some of the aspects might be slower, it is the performances that will move you and I found Rosamund Pike beautiful and compelling. The story of Marie Curie is an inspiring one, one that shows how amazing her accomplishments are as a scientist and woman and if like me, you don’t know a lot about her, I strongly recommend this movie
Rating: 5 out of 5 experiments
Radioactive will be released on Amazon Prime Video on July 24, 2020.