It can be difficult to breath new life into the bio-pic. At times they can come across as rather simple, paint-by-numbers stories covering a person’s life and their achievements, with little technical wonder or creative subject matter. But Radioactive is not that film. Instead, this is a compelling portrait of famed and brilliant scientist Marie Curie (Rosamund Pike), and her discovery of polonium and radium, and is captured with beautiful attention to detail and with striking creativity.
The film documents the life and work of Marie Curie: meeting her husband/research partner Pierre (Sam Riley), discovering polonium and radium, the tragic loss of Pierre to a trampling horse, and her affair with colleague Paul Langevin (Aneurin Barnard).
Director Marjane Satrapi gives brings a strong sense of creativity and a unique vision to realising the life of Marie Curie up on the big screen with a film that both pay attention to the power of historical fact, but which is painted in a brilliant creative light. As a filmmaker and artist, Satrapi is known for her strong visual talent and for being willing to push the envelope with a selected list of works that include Persepolis and The Voices. In Radioactive she crafts a film which is best described as a ‘character piece captured in a dream’, and through the use of a very distinct production aesthetic takes audiences inside the mind and dreams of Curie as she makes her discoveries and sees the possibilities that her discoveries will have on the world, both the good and the bad.
Taking on the lead role of Marie Curie is celebrated actress Rosamund Pike, and again we get another thoroughly committed performance from the actress in this very complex and true historical role. As Curie, Pike is best described as a grinder, a woman living in the 19th century who is trying to make her way not only in the world, but more importantly within the scientific community of the time which readily looked down upon women, and their genius. As Curie, Pike gives a performance that is bound with both shades of wonder and pragmatism and she finds her great discoveries her triumphs begin to weigh on her mind, and the thought of what comes next is never far from her thoughts.
Joining Pike in Radioactive is talented British thespian Sam Reilly as Curie’s husband and fellow scientist Pierre Curie. As an actor, Reilly is an eclectic sort who has built his career on a range of wide and diverse character roles and the historical role of Pierre Curie fits him like a glove. Not only does he share natural chemistry with Pike, but he’s able to use this to help convey just how important Pierre meant to her, along with feeling the immense shadow that would fall across him because of his wife’s success. The relationship between Pierre and Marie is a complicated one, and Reilly’s talent is an integral part of how this is brought to the screen and is a great example of the complexity that he can carry as a performer.
One of the most striking parts of Radioactive is the way in which director Marjane Satrapi and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle capture the film. Attention is paid here to a colour palette of luminous greens and muted colours, such as brown and grey, that fully emphasize the magical discovery of radium and the impact that it has upon the world. The film also makes use of turn of the century photographic techniques such as ellipses and a stationary camera that gives the film a historical, almost otherworldly setting. The filmmaking and lighting are very European and you can feel the deliberate way in which this was done in order to help better transport the audience into the story and setting of Curie’s grand discovery.
It’s difficult to do something different within the biopic genre, but Radioactive creates a viewing experience that is unlike anything an audience has ever witnessed before in relation to the genre. It’s a film that captures one woman’s phenomenal achievements, along with presenting a thoroughly unique and visually striking portrait of science in an age gone by, and makes for truly memorable viewing.
Image: Roadshow Films