Surely, one of the greatest minds, as well as the discoveries, of our time deserve much better than this tedious affair.

“Oh, you are impossibly dramatic,” Bronisława Dłuska says to her sister following a frantic argument in the opening minutes of Radioactive, director Marjane Satrapi’s biopic of Marie Curie. She might as well have been talking about this film.

Premiering at Toronto International Film Festival in 2019, the film was subsequently postponed from a wider release due to the pandemic. About a year ago, it saw the light of the day in the US and the UK via digital releases; and now in mid-2021, it finally makes its way to our fine country.

Starring Rosamund Pike in the lead role of the celebrated scientist, the film itself is based on the graphic novel Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss.

Satrapi, perhaps best known for her autobiographical graphic novel Persepolis, but no stranger to film direction – this being her fifth feature-length project – chooses to tell a more cut-for-Hollywood version of the tale. While certain liberties to fill in the gaps and fictionalisation of known events are generally expected (and accepted) from such a production, the choices here – be it the textbook rom-com-esque meeting of Marie and Pierre or the former’s absence from the Nobel ceremony – seem out of place at best, and on-the-nose dramatics at worst. It also does a disservice to a figure whose real life story was as fascinating as any, and hardly in need or any by-the-numbers touch-ups.

While Pike has her moments where she rises above the general mediocrity and choppy storytelling, all the while working with a small set of rigid character traits, the rest of the cast is hardly more than forgettable faces – doing a reasonable job with what is at hand, but not nearly enough to stand out. That fact that most of the film looks like a ’90s telefilm or one of those dramatic reenactments for the Discovery Channel (including the CGI segments to explain the science), and that the dialogues and their delivery more often than not resemble that of a poor stage show, does little to help.

Then there are the many ‘cuts to the future’ segments, showcasing how the discoveries made by the Curies panned out in the future (not very well in the eyes of the film), that add almost nothing, except befuddlement. One can almost imagine a version where this would have worked for the better; alas, another trick missed here by the director, and the writer Jack Thorne.

A couple of things that do almost work for the film are a few of the set designs, and the pace. Almost. While the film moves at a dizzying pace at times, jumping through time and notable events, keeping things moving; it only makes the places it lingers more noticeable. And these choices often feel either checking off some checklist or somewhat whimsical. The result – for a film that runs 110 minutes, at times it seems to find its rhythm, but also leaves one with a sense that a good chunk of it could have been left on the editing table without losing much of value.

By the time Radioactive reaches the obligatory part, just before the credits roll, where a montage of images superimposed with text leaves you with some more information that the previous almost-two hours (even with all the time-hopping) could not touch upon, one cannot help but rue over an opportunity lost. Surely, one of the greatest minds, as well as the discoveries, of our time deserve much better than this tedious affair.

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By akagami