The Theory Of Everything | 2014
Eddie Redmayne turns in an astonishing physical performance as revolutionary physicist Prof Stephen Hawking, surviving the onset of Motor Neurone Disease with the support of his partner Jane (Felicity Jones) in a story which would be laughably preposterous if it didn’t happen to be true.
Most of the film is set around Cambridge, where the young Hawking studied. The city, named for the River Cam which runs through its centre, is about 50 miles north of London in East Anglia and its University rivals Oxford as the UK’s most prestigious seat of learning.
Although Hawking famously studied at Trinity Hall, the film substitutes the photogenically elaborate St John’s College, affectionately dubbed ‘the wedding cake’.
The narrow streets of the old city are seen as Hawking cycles through Senate House Passage, beneath the Gothic tracery of Kings College Chapel.
The May Ball of 1963, at which a gauche, young and staunchly atheist Stephen Hawking begins his romance with devoutly Christian Jane Wilde, is staged on the wide lawn in front of the New Court Building, a part of St Johns College lying west of the River Cam.
The firework display was commissioned from Titanium Fireworks, the company responsible for the pyrotechnics for the London 2012 Olympic Games, and witnessed by the real Professor Stephen Hawking, his two children, former wife Jane Wilde and her current husband Jonathan Hellyer Jones, who were visiting the set.
Hawking and Wilde succumb to a slow dance on the carved limestone, but unglamourously-named, Kitchen Bridge (designed by Sir Christopher Wren) and, giddy with love, they joyously swirl around on the grass on the west bank of the Cam north of New Court, with the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ behind them. The covered bridge earns its name from the (vaguely) similar landmark in Venice.
Physicist Dennis Sciama (David Thewlis) entrusts Hawking with a key to the real Cavendish Laboratory, and tells the suitably awed scientist it’s where the the electron was discovered by JJ Thomson (true) and the atom first split by Ernest Rutherford (not quite true – it was his laboratory but he did his splitting Victoria University in Manchester)
It’s in the Tudor Second Court of St John’s College that Hawking loses his balance and falls heavily, leading to the diagnosis of the muscular wasting disease.
The striking spiral staircase up to Hawking’s room really is New Court, St John’s College but, as ever, practicalities of film-making mean that not all of the filming was on the real locations.
The historic Harrow Old School, Harrow-on-the-Hill in North West London was used to recreate the interiors of Trinity Hall. Coincidentally, Harrow is the old school of Benedict Cumberbatch, who previously played Stephen Hawking in a BBC television production, and the actor’s name was discovered carved into the school’s woodwork during filming.
Founded in 1572 under a Royal Charter granted by Elizabeth I, Harrow remains one of the country’s most illustrious schools: old boys include, apart from Benedict Cumberbatch, a clutch of Prime Ministers, writers as diverse as Lord Byron, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Anthony Trollope and screenwriter Richard Curtis (Four Weddings And A Funeral, Notting Hill...). The school was also used for classroom scenes in Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone.
Closer to central London, the house party, at which Steven and Jane first meet, is filmed in Craxton Studios, 14 Kidderpore Avenue in Hampstead NW3.
A large Edwardian house built in 1901 for artist George Hillyard Swinstead, it also supplied the ‘St Albans’ dining room of the Hawking family home, while its exterior (with railings added) became Hawking’s ‘Cambridge’ digs. It’s only a couple of minutes away from another artist’s extravagant house, which was used as the mansion of Cruella DeVil in 101 Dalmatians.
‘Cambridge Station’, where Hawking stumbles as he runs to catch the London train, may look oddly familiar to viewers of TV’s Downton Abbey. It’s Horsted Keynes, on the Bluebell Railway in East Sussex, which also stands in for ‘Downton’ station in the popular drama series, as well as having appeared in numerous films, including Mr Holmes, with Ian McKellen as the retired sleuth, and spy spoof Kingsman – The Secret Service.
It’s off to the area around Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire for two more locations. The ‘Cambridge’ pub in which Hawking and his friends drink is the The Royal Standard of England, Forty Green Road, Forty Green, north of Beaconsfield – a wonderfully atmospheric timbered bar which claims to be the oldest free-house in England. The Royal Standard’s distinctive interior was previously seen as the ‘Sandford’ pub, where there’s a spectacular shoot out in Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz.
A little further to the north, in the village of Penn, stands Holy Trinity Church, Church Road, which was used for the wedding of Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde. Some shots used a special camera to simulate the grainy old Super 8 movie film of the time.
Professor Hawking is taken seriously ill while enjoying a performance of Wagner’s Die Walkure at ‘Bayreuth, Germany’, leading to the emergency operation which cost him his voice. The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, WC2, stands in for the famous home of Wagnerian productions. The London landmark has previously been seen in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1948 The Red Shoes, and as the alien opera house invaded by fish people in Luc-Besson’s The Fifth Element.
The interior of Buckingham Palace is not used on-screen. The white and gold corridors where Professor Hawking collects his Companion of Honour from HM the Queen are those of Lancaster House, a mere stone’s throw from the actual Palace and – surprisingly – more opulent than Her Maj’s place. As Queen Victoria herself remarked when she popped along the Mall for a visit “I have come from my house to your palace”.
Owned by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the house is tucked away behind high walls at the end of Pall Mall, and its breathtaking Louis XIV interior is rarely open to the general public.
Lancaster House became the Tsar’s ‘St Petersburg Winter Palace’ in Warren Beatty’s historical epic Reds, appeared as itself for the Lancaster House costume ball in the Merchant-Ivory film of Henry James’ The Golden Bowl, and subsequently became the home of Lady Bracknell (Judi Dench) in Oliver Parker’s 2002 adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest.
Originally built in 1514 for Cardinal Wolsey, Hampton Court became a royal residence when it was taken over and expanded by King Henry VIII.
It’s rarely seen on screen, though it did appear in Terrence Malick’s The New World, and as ‘St James’ Palace’ in Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. For the Oscar-winning A Man For All Seasons, usually regarded as the Palace’s most famous ‘screen appearance’, a studio set was used.