With his thin frame, full mouth, and pale complexion, Eddie Redmayne was born to play astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who has lived most of his life with motor neuron disease. Redmayne's convincing recreation of this instantly recognizable figure represents the casting coup of the year, so it's too bad director James Marsh chose to paint his cinematic portrait in muted shades of duty and respect. He begins during Hawking's wonderful-terrible Cambridge years when he falls in love with Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), a literature student, and finds out he has two years to live (he's now outlived that prognosis by 51 years). While Julian Schnabel presented his immobile character's biography from the inside out in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Marsh takes the opposite tack, checking off the requisite boxes as his actors hit their marks against pastel-colored backdrops and a tasteful score that tinkles away like a music box run amok. As a documentarian, he's taken on real-life figures before, e.g., the communicative chimpanzee of Project Nim and the tightrope walker of the Oscar-winning Man on Wire, and in different ways, they're thrilling films, but The Theory of Everything is too busy playing it safe to generate any real excitement. recommended

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