A RADIANT PRODUCTION
Movie Review – Radioactive
Review by Ray Schillaci
Madame Curie’s story is so remarkable that there have been over half a dozen films that have attempted to capture her story. Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge was a 2016 production that received mixed reviews concentrating on the romance between her and her scientist husband. Unfortunately, bringing that aspect to the forefront was a simplistic way of looking at her life. Les Palmes de M. Schutz was a 1997 French film that took a more humorous look, but also provided the drama that went with the lives of Marie and Pierre Curie. In the same year, Marie Curie: More Than Meets the Eye was a TV wartime drama that had Curie as a secondary character being spied on by two young sisters who believed she was involved in espionage.
There were also two more TV productions. In ’66 an Italian made mini-series sought to capture the spirit of Madame Curie and ten years later the BBC would present a highly touted mini-series based on her life. But, throughout the years the first film of Curie’s life was by far the best. In 1943 Madame Curie garnered seven Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor – Walter Pidgeon and Best Actress – Greer Garson. Fast forward to Amazon’s presentation of this very complicated woman that made a dramatic change for mankind. Although flawed like Madame Curie’s life, the film is beautifully mounted, intelligent, and delivers a far more realistic relationship between the two scientists with a bravura performance by Rosamund Pike. This version could easily be considered a close runner up to the Greer Garson film.
Let’s start with Ms. Pike. She embodies Curie and delivers her brashness and boldness with an anguish and frustration, only to reveal a tender side well hidden. Rosamund Pike rises to the level of Meryl Streep with but one difference – she feels approachable. Streep so many times (to me) has come across cold or distant in many roles. Not doubting the women’s prowess as an actress, just many times I felt a disconnect whereas with Ms. Pike I genuinely felt her struggles and her pain – a woman battling to be recognized in a man’s world, being on the edge of discovering something that could change the course of history if she was just taken seriously enough.
For those unfamiliar with this exceptional person, Marie Salomea Skłodowska was a Polish woman living in France in the 1800s who was both a physicist and chemist developing breakthrough research on radioactivity that would eventually lead to X-ray machines, a radiation treatment for cancer and, on the destructive end, be responsible for Hiroshima and Chernobyl. Sadly, she struggled with the scientific community to help fund her research. As brilliant as Curie was, she was not accepted in the boys’ club because of gender and her Polish ancestry.
This would change after meeting with fellow scientist Pierre Curie. He too was not admired by the scientific community, but he was undaunted and found a unique partner in Ms. Skłodowska. They would help each other break through the barriers of the established scientists and go on to win The Nobel Prize in Physics along with the aid of French physicist, Henri Becquerel. Curie’s relationship with Skłodowska started off as a strained one. He not only admired her for her work, but was in love with her as well. On the other hand, she admittedly was too into her work and felt strongly she had no time for a relationship. As they worked together throughout the years, Curie’s patience paid off and they became closer, eventually married.
Director Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) would seem a good fit for directing the Curies’ tale from the critically acclaimed book by Lauren Redniss with a screenplay by Jack Thorne (National Treasure, Wonder). But, Satrapi and Thorne attempt to cram in too much of the Curies, their accomplishments, and what everything they did would lead to in the future. It’s an admirable try, and for some, patience will pay off. The capture of the period is exquisite. Their romance is grounded in reality, and everything involving Madame Curie is fascinating largely due to Rosamund Pike.
The rest of the cast is to be commended as well, especially Sam Riley as the indomitable Pierre Curie. Pike and Riley’s scenes are near luminescent. Their push pull relationship is heartfelt, and Madame Curie’s realization of how much she really does love him comes too late in life. Sad, but true. Their struggles in the scientific community are riveting.
But, things grind to a sudden halt when we are privy to what their research will bring about. A fast forward of things to come can be jolting – treatment for cancer and Hiroshima. I’m not sure if this is a script issue, directorial problem or editing. These scenes, as eye opening as they are, can be intrusive on the rhythm created by the film.
Overall, this did not bother me to the point of dismissing such an important work on a fascinating woman that helped steer us into a future of tremendous possibilities, all the while with a warning of what her discovery could do if used in the wrong hands. Radioactive may not be the best depiction of Madame Curie’s life, but it’s very close and extremely relatable. Even with its flaws I highly recommend catching this film on Amazon Prime.
Directed by: Marjane Satrapi
Release Date: July 24, 2020
Run Time: 109 Minutes
Distributor: Amazon Studios