Rosamund Pike Sam Riley Anya Taylor-Joy
In an extraordinary production directed by Marjane Satrapi and starring Rosamund Pike as Madame Curie, we hear the story of an eccentric scientist who won two Nobel prizes through much conflict and a certain amount of public hatred. She was the first woman to win a Nobel, notably being relatively unimpressed with it, but at the same time fighting for her role in it.
Madame Curie (nee, Marie Slodowska) was having a difficult time holding onto a lab to do her work—both because of her being a woman trying to do science and because of a rather cantankerous personality. It was most fortunate that her path crossed that of Pierre Curie who recognized immediately that they could achieve much more working together. It was likewise fortunate that he knew how to “handle” her, which included being conscientiously careful in seeing that she received every credit she was due in their partnership. For instance, initially, the Nobel committee was intending to give the prize to him alone, but he would only accept it if they gave it to both of them.
The story is fascinating in a number of ways; first of all in seeing the hurdles she had to jump over in even being able to be a scientist, but secondly because of a quirky, prickly personality. She was highly complex in her make-up, having a phobia about hospitals, being ambivalent about recognition yet ferociously insisting on getting credit for her achievements, and giving in completely to the love she had toward her husband. She and her husband were also unusual in their communication with one another and in the family. Sensitive topics were never out of bounds for discussion, and they could have heated arguments, then easily switch back to a loving relationship.
Pike is well known for her talent and skill in acting, and here once again she captures what I presume is the essence of who Marie Curie really was. It should be a career high for her. (I have not read Lauren Redniss book on which Jack Thorne based the script, but would guess that the film is a fine representation of Redniss’ work, which was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2011.) Sam Riley as Marie’s husband makes a good match with Pike, and the scenes they’re in together are electric.
Another aspect to marvel at in this production is Anthony Dod Martle’s artistic cinematography, which he uses to further the story and accentuate the dramatics. I think it’s a case where one could look at and revel in the pictures alone without the sound. Transitions, close-ups, and the blending of visuals are striking in their own right.
Personally, I was very moved by Radioactive in that when I was a psychologist at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, much of my research was about identifying the effects of central nervous system radiation on children’s ability to learn years after they received it. Kudos also to the film for showing the positive and possible negative effects of scientific knowledge—about which Madame Curie eventually became all too aware. Her redemption came partly from the effectiveness of radiation that was helpful even at that time, and in her daughter’s continuing discoveries of its use in medicine and on the battlefield.
Radioactive is a film I wish all young people could see for its modeling of simple passion for science, the challenges that arise in the tension between family life and career, and the prejudices that can appear from a general public that is not educated or well informed enough to override petty concerns. The film is most timely in all these aspects.
Now appearing on Amazon Prime, this is a story that will entertain, inspire, and inform anyone who sees it.