After months of hype, anticipation for Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer peaked this weekend as the film debuted in cinemas alongside Greta Gerwig's Barbie.


The three-hour epic tells the incredible true story of J Robert Oppenheimer and the American scientist's involvement in the creation of the atomic bomb, though some have even noticed a minor historical error already.

The film also delves into Oppenheimer's (Cillian Murphy) life and his affair with psychiatrist Jean Tatlock, who is played by British actress Florence Pugh, with the duo's nude scenes having courted controversy in some regions outside the US, including India.

But who was Pugh's character Tatlock and what was her relationship with Oppenheimer like? Read on to find out.

Who was Jean Tatlock? Oppenheimer's Florence Pugh role explained

Born in Michigan in 1914, Jean Tatlock was the second child of Marjorie Fenton and JSP Tatlock, an acclaimed English professor and literary scholar who had a doctorate from Harvard University and was considered a foremost expert on the works of Geoffrey Chaucer.

Before attending New York’s Vassar College in 1931, Tatlock took a year off to travel in Europe and stayed with a friend in Switzerland who was a devoted follower of the psychologist Carl Jung, which inspired her to study psychology herself.

After graduating from Vassar in 1935, she then went on to study at Stanford Medical School. But before she enrolled at the university, Tatlock completed her prerequisites at the University of California, Berkeley - where her intellect and good looks caught the interest of then physics professor Oppenheimer.

When did Oppenheimer meet Jean Tatlock?

Florence Pugh is Jean Tatlock and Cillian Murphy is J. Robert Oppenheimer in OPPENHEIMER
Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock and Cillian Murphy as J Robert Oppenheimer. Universal Pictures

Oppenheimer and Tatlock began a passionate and intense romance in 1936, when she was 22 and he was 32.

Despite their 10-year age gap, a friend described Tatlock as Oppenheimer’s “truest love” and said he was “devoted to her”. Although she turned him down, he reportedly proposed to Tatlock twice.

Tatlock was impressed with Oppenheimer’s knowledge of English literature, and she introduced him to the poetry of John Donne. According to The First Atomic Bomb by Janet Farrell Brodie, the Trinity test - the first detonation of a nuclear weapon in 1945 - was named after a Donne poem and inspired by Tatlock.

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From 1939 onward, Oppenheimer claimed he only saw Tatlock on rare occasions; and in 1940, he wed Katherine Puening, more commonly known as Kitty Oppenheimer, played by Emily Blunt in the biopic, to whom he stayed married the rest of his life.

However, he and Tatlock reportedly remained “the closest of friends and occasional lovers”, and she would phone him for comfort during her occasional bouts of depression.

By 1943, Tatlock was at the start of what seemed to be a promising career as a paediatric psychiatrist at Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco. The 29-year-old was also being treated for clinical depression, which might have worsened when Oppenheimer drastically reduced contact with her after becoming director of the Los Alamos Laboratory that year.

Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer with a cigarette in his mouth.
Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer. Universal Pictures

Tatlock was then placed under surveillance by the FBI due to her relationship with Oppenheimer and past involvement with communist politics: she wrote for the Western Worker - a major West Coast communist publication - and was a paying member of the Communist Party of the United States of America while dating Oppenheimer, introducing him to several prominent members of the party.

While Oppenheimer denied that Tatlock was solely responsible for his political interests or affiliations, she once wrote to a friend: “I find I am a complete Red when anything at all.”

She also pushed Oppenheimer to move from mere theory to action, and when he commented that he would have to settle for staying on the periphery of political struggles, Tatlock remarked: “Oh, for God’s sake, don’t settle for anything.”

When Tatlock and Oppenheimer had one last meeting in June 1943, she confessed that she still loved him and wanted to be with him - but unbeknownst to her, FBI agents allegedly monitored the entire visit.

“For reasons of love and compassion, he had become a key member of Jean’s psychological support structure - and then he had vanished, mysteriously,” Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin wrote in their book, American Prometheus. “In Jean’s eyes, it may have seemed as if ambition had trumped love.”

When did Jean Tatlock die?

Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock and Cillian Murphy as J Robert Oppenheimer, sitting together by a bed
Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock and Cillian Murphy as J Robert Oppenheimer. Universal Pictures

Tatlock died by suicide on 4th January 1944, at the age of just 29. Tragically, her father discovered her body after entering her San Francisco apartment through a window after she didn’t respond to the doorbell. He reportedly found his daughter lying in the bathroom, her head submerged in a partially-filled bath, with a suicide note on the dining room table.

According to reports, the note read: “I am disgusted with everything. To those who loved me and helped me, all love and courage. I wanted to live and to give and I got paralysed somehow. I tried like hell to understand and couldn’t.”

Due to the agency’s surveillance, one of the first people to learn of her death was FBI Director J Edgar Hoover, and due to the unusual circumstances around her death and the FBI keeping tabs on her, many have speculated that Tatlock was murdered. However, most of her loved ones believe the cause of her death was suicide.

Not only was Oppenheimer despondent upon hearing the news, but his relationship with Tatlock would also be used as evidence against him in 1954 when the United States Atomic Energy Commission held security hearings that explored his communist associations and other past actions.

Oppenheimer lost his security clearance as a result of the hearing, effectively ending his formal relationship with the US government.

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Oppenheimer is now showing in UK cinemas. Check out more of our Film coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.


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