“Everybody adores Stephen Hawking,” explains The Theory of Everything producer Lisa Bruce. “Stephen is very funny, he likes the ladies, he likes a drink, he’s naughty, he’s not just this boring scientist. The worry was that we weren’t going to be respectful, but this is a lovely treatment of this highly respected man.” But if Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Hawking is the star attraction of Bruce’s film, then the Cambridge backdrops come a close second.
“It’s a huge locations film in terms of numbers,” says Bruce, who helped capture the grandeur and prestige of Cambridge in the early 1960s. The movie, based on the memoir written by Hawking’s first wife Jane, begins as Hawking is starting his PhD in cosmology at Trinity College. We see Hawking zipping along on his bicycle on Trinity Lane before he is diagnosed with motor neurone disease and given two years to live. “The first 20 minutes are deliberately at a faster pace, to contrast with the rest of the film.”
The summer ball takes place in the grounds of St John’s, and Jane and Stephen kiss on Kitchen Bridge, Cambridge’s second oldest bridge. “[Hawking] came to visit us when we were film- ing the romantic fireworks scene,” says Bruce. “Eddie was in costume, and seeing two Stephen Hawkings was quite bizarre. Eddie’s perfor- mance is amazing. About halfway through you forget that someone is acting. It’s not over the top, it’s just happening. He progresses into it.”
The crew tried to be as faithful to the original setting, and to Hawking’s story, as possible. “We went to real places where he lived, or where he studied,” says Bruce. The city’s distinctive canals and Cambridge’s ornate Bridge of Sighs also feature in the movie, recognisable when Stephen and Jane are spinning each other around at the water’s edge. Meanwhile, Hawking’s family home, on Little St Mary’s Lane, where Jane put Stephen to bed in the kitchen when he could no longer climb the stairs, can also be seen.
By retracing Hawking’s steps, Bruce learnt more than she ever thought she would about the physicist. “We thought we’d learn about cosmology, but instead we just learnt what an incredible person [Hawking] is,” says Bruce. “To be told you are going to be dead in two years, and to be still alive now and to have done the things he’s done is absolutely amazing.”