"The Theory of Everything" could easily be mistaken for a traditional biopic of Hawking, the theoretical physicist who made enormous scientific discoveries while suffering from ALS. The film, too, is a showcase for the remarkable performance of Eddie Redmayne, playing Hawking through each step of the disease.
But "The Theory of Everything," directed by James Marsh, is more properly a portrait of a marriage, one that hung together largely because of Jane Wilde Hawking's uncommon strength.
"It's Jane's point of view that starts the whole screenplay," says Marsh. "So her performance has to be the equal of Eddie's — technically, emotionally."
"The Theory of Everything" is based on Jane Wilde Hawking's memoir, "Traveling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen," so it's natural that the film should gravitate to her perspective. But it nevertheless feels as if Jones holds the camera when it would normally merely flitter across the wife character, relegating her to the background of Hawking's accomplishments.
"That's what drew me to the project," Jones said in a recent interview. "The film explores this woman not only being a caregiver and a mother, but also having her own academic identity, her own career desires, yet also at the same time having a sexual identity. And I felt like there was something revolutionary in this."
The Hawkings met as students at Cambridge University, and the early days of their relationship coincided with the diagnosis, at 21, of a motor-neuron disease in Hawking. Though Hawking (now 72) was then only expected to live a few years, the couple married and had three children together.
Just as exceptional as Stephen's scientific genius is, so too was Jane's strength. "I know I don't look like a terribly strong person," she says in the film as she decides to remain with Stephen. "But we're going to fight this."
The film, on which Jane consulted and met with Jones, follows their relationship through its uncommon challenges and its eventual, open-minded dissolution. Jones spent months researching the role and preparing to play Jane from youth to old age.
"It was one of those projects where you really take it home with you and you become those characters," says the 31-year-old British actress. "I was just in awe of how this couple adapted."
Jones' acclaimed performance is widely expected to lead to her first Oscar nomination. She and Redmayne figure to be mainstays in the fall's awards season.
"She fought for her character," says Marsh. "Felicity was tenacious in fighting for this strong woman to be as strong as she could be."