Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory Of Everything earned millions at the box office and scored multiple Academy Award nominations after its release in 2014. Furthermore, lead actor Eddie Redmayne even won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of its main protagonist. But the movie drew fierce criticism from its real-life leading lady, Hawking’s ex-wife, Jane.
The Theory Of Everything tells the story of the life of famed physicist Stephen Hawking. The screenplay is an adaptation of Travelling to Infinity: The True Story Behind the Theory of Everything, a memoir by the scientist’s longtime wife, Jane. It focuses on the couple’s relationship more than Stephen’s phenomenal career beyond his diagnosis of motor neurone disease.
Meanwhile, British actor Eddie Redmayne played Stephen in the movie. People may also know him through his performance from the musical adaptation of Les Misérables, where he starred alongside Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway. But it was his stellar performance as the English scientist, covering the course of his marriage, life and work which earned him higher accolades.
Elsewhere, Felicity Jones starred alongside Eddie as Stephen’s wife, Jane. The English actress had appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 alongside Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone prior to her role in The Theory Of Everything. Her portrayal of Jane was one for which she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
Indeed, The Theory Of Everything received a total 19 nominations across the Golden Globes, Academy Awards and BAFTAs. So when the real Jane herself spoke up about her feelings on the movie, some may have been surprised by what she had to say. Shockingly, the physicist’s ex-wife launched a scathing attack on the biopic.
Though The Theory of Everything is about the life of Stephen, a lot of the movie’s focus is on his relationship with Jane. Indeed, as an adaptation of Jane’s autobiography, the movie is as much a love story as it is a biopic.
Stephen may well be the most famous name in science today. Though there are names that ring through time, like Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton, few have made a bigger contribution to modern physics than Stephen. Indeed, like those before him, science will be talking about his work for many decades to come.
Perhaps Stephen’s life was written in the stars. He was born in Oxford, England, on January 8, 1942, 300 years to the day of astronomer Galileo’s passing. The young Stephen, however, didn’t appear to be naturally studious, since his academic efforts bore little success, at least to begin with.
For instance, Stephen’s ability to read was poor while attending Byron House School in the Highgate region of London, England. He later blamed the school’s progressive approach to education for the failing, which favored teaching their students through experiences rather than traditional methods. However, it wouldn’t be long before Hawking caught up.
Indeed, education was of paramount importance to Stephen’s family. His mother, Isobel, came from a family of doctors and studied philosophy, politics and economics at the University of Oxford. Stephen’s father, Frank, also studied at Oxford, in pursuit of a career in medicine. Indeed, the latter hoped his son would follow in his footsteps.
However, after acing his 11-plus exam at age ten, Stephen began developing a natural ability for scientific disciplines. He had wanted to pursue mathematics at the University of Oxford, but at the time it wasn’t taught there, so instead he opted for chemistry and physics. Apparently, he found the undergraduate studies “ridiculously easy.”
After earning the highest honor in physics at Oxford, Stephen began graduate work at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. And it was in the city that he formed a connection with another student, Jane Wilde. Their whirlwind romance soon escalated, but their blossoming relationship wasn’t the only way Stephen’s life would change.
Stephen first met Jane at a party in 1962, when the two were introduced by mutual friends. Jane, who was studying languages at the University of London’s Westfield College, had high academic aspirations of her own, a quality that may have appealed to Stephen.
Jane and Stephen’s first date was a casual affair that involved a visit to Stephen’s parents’ house. Later, the young couple went on a date to Cambridge’s May ball, an evening Jane remembers perhaps for the wrong reasons, at least in part.
As Jane later recalled in her memoirs, the couple’s arrival to the Cambridge May ball was sketchy. Traveling to the event by car, Stephen was a haphazard driver with a heavy foot when it came to the gas pedal. His mind, too, would often wander away from the road and on to other things.
Indeed, as Jane tells it, the experience terrified her so much she made her own way home that night. The incident may have put her off being by Stephen’s side in a vehicle, it never discouraged her from enjoying herself that evening.
Jane and Stephen became engaged in October 1964 and married nine months later, all while continuing their studies. Then their children started to arrive, with Robert in May 1967, followed by Lucy over two years later. And while Timothy arrived later in April 1979, nevertheless they packed a lot into the early years of their relationship.
However, during Stephen’s final year of studies at Oxford, he started to experience increasing difficulties with his motor functions. For instance, he fell on some stairs, struggled when rowing and his speech became mildly slurred.
Tests revealed that Stephen had developed motor neurone disease, a degenerative condition that impacts the body’s neurones that control the brain. Muscles deteriorate and for many, eventually the ability to walk, talk, swallow and breathe is completely lost. Indeed, doctors believed Stephen had only another two years to live beyond his diagnosis in 1963 at age 21.
According to The Guardian, Stephen witnessed the passing of a boy from leukemia that he knew in hospital and it gave him a new sense of being. The paper added that he said, “Although there was a cloud hanging over my future, I found, to my surprise, that I was enjoying life in the present more than before.”
Furthermore, it was a life that Jane was determined to enjoy with Stephen. She had known about his diagnosis before the meal with the latter’s family. Indeed, Jane’s memoir paints a picture of young newlyweds relatively unconcerned about the difficulties that the motor neurone disease would soon bring.
But Stephen and Jane’s marriage faced more hurdles than just his illness. That’s because the physicist had decided early on to dedicate the rest of his life to his work. According to John Boslough’s Stephen Hawking’s Universe, the scientist said, “My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”
However, Jane’s role as a wife and mother grew more complex as Stephen’s physical condition deteriorated. She became primary caregiver to their children and took on all the responsibilities of keeping the home, allowing Stephen to focus on his work.
Nevertheless, Jane maintained her own identity within her marriage to Stephen, rather than live in the shadow of his scientific excellence. Eventually, she earned a PhD in medieval Spanish poetry in 1981. Indeed, despite her husband’s phenomenal success in physics, she managed to carve out her own presence too.
In her memoir, Jane described the role of wife and mother as “a one-way ticket to outer darkness – and that it was essential to preserve my own identity.” As well as her marital role, then, she taught Spanish and French while caring for her husband, who long outlived the life expectancy his doctors ascribed.
By the late 1970s Stephen’s health had deteriorated to the point where he was using a wheelchair. Indeed, only those closest to him could understand what he was saying. And as time wore on, he had come to rely on care assistants and nurses as well as his wife.
Jane felt no sense of privacy due to the ever-present nurses. However, by the middle of the 1980s she had grown close to an organist named Jonathan Hellyer Jones. He had become friends with the Hawkings after they met when Jane sang with a church choir. Nevertheless, Stephen accepted his wife had feelings for Jones.
Furthermore, by the 1980s Jane’s marriage to Stephen had struggled for a number of years. The more acclaimed her husband became, the more overwhelmed they were by the idea of being a “celebrity.” They also clashed on their religious beliefs – Stephen was an atheist and she a Christian. Indeed, his breakthrough work contributed to the big bang theory in 1970, an idea at odds with his wife’s religion.
Nevertheless, when Stephen was hospitalized in 1985 on a visit to the European nuclear research facility CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, Jane stood by him. With her husband on life support, doctors asked if it should be switched off. Jane was adamant that it shouldn’t – and instead her husband returned to Cambridge for lifesaving surgery.
Sadly, Stephen had contracted an infection and required a tracheotomy. However, although the operation was one that saved his life, the result was that he would require around-the-clock care from professional nurses. Various nurses took one of three shifts a day, and Jane suddenly found the marriage very crowded.
Indeed, over time Stephen grew close to one nurse in particular, called Elaine Mason. However, his family, friends and even colleagues grew concerned about her strong character and dominant personality traits. Nevertheless, Stephen left his wife for her in February 1990.
Jane had been loyal to her husband through Stephen’s physical deterioration, despite having made a connection with Jonathan Hellyer Jones. Nevertheless, she and Stephen divorced in 1995 – and he married Elaine that September. According to Kitty Ferguson’s book Stephen Hawking: His Life and Work, he said, “It’s wonderful, I have married the woman I love.” The union, however, drove a wedge between Stephen and his family.
Furthermore, Jane married Jonathan Hellyer Jones in 1997. However, her ex-husband still featured prominently in her life, as she continued to aid him through his illness while he remained in his pursuit of understanding life and the universe. But for as long as Elaine was present, it seems difficulties persisted in their relationship.
Indeed, many close to Stephen suspected misconduct on Elaine’s part during their time together. However, the professor never raised a complaint about her, despite an investigation by police. Nevertheless, Jane and the rest of his family experienced closer ties when his marriage to Elaine ended in divorce in 2006.
Meanwhile, there remains mystery surrounding the breakdown of Stephen’s second marriage, not least because he rarely spoke of it. Nevertheless, Jane’s relationship with Stephen improved following the break up. In her book, Travelling to Infinity: The True Story Behind the Theory of Everything, she said, “We are able to associate freely again and enjoy many a family occasion together. It has been quite like old times…”
Jane’s memoirs in turn became the blueprint for the 2014 movie The Theory of Everything. And yet, despite the film’s acclaim and accolades as mentioned earlier, there was a key player who was not happy with the story the film told. And that was Stephen’s wife of 30 years and author of the book, Jane.
It seems the movie took some creative liberties when telling the story of Jane and Stephen’s relationship. For example, their early courtship involved lunch with Stephen’s family before his diagnosis, while the May ball ended with a romantic kiss on a picturesque bridge. However, the meal took place after Jane discovered about her future husband’s illness and the bridge kiss never happened.
Furthermore, the movie portrayed Jane as a woman who sacrificed career for family. However, as we discovered earlier, she actually carried on teaching Spanish and French during that time. Meanwhile, in the movie the marriage broke down in a civilized, albeit tearful conversation. However, Jane’s memoirs recall a screaming argument while on vacation.
Of course, there may be certain creative conventions in Hollywood that reality may not necessarily reflect. For example, The Theory of Everything depicts a dramatic reconciliation between Jane and Stephen at an awards ceremony that in reality happened before the couple separated.
Jane entered into a relationship with Stephen aware of the struggles they faced with his gradual physical decline. But he defied expectations and went on to live many years beyond doctors’ expectations. Jane’s loyalty to him ended in devastation when he announced to her by letter that he was leaving her for Elaine. For his part, Stephen sadly passed away peacefully at his Cambridge home in March 2018, aged 76.