Marjane Satrapi (director)
1h 49mins (length)
17 April 2020 (released)
18 April 2020
Most of us will be familiar with a few general facts about Marie Curie's life.
Having developed the theory of radioactivity and discovered two elements, polonium and radium, as well as having become the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the physicist and chemist is an integral figure in the history of science.
Yet, less is known about Curie's backstory and personal life, with Iranian-French director Marjane Satrapi now attempting to fill in the blanks with her new biographical film, Radioactive.
Loosely based on the 2010 graphic novel by Lauren Redniss, the movie opens in 1934 and shows the Polish scientist, as played by Rosamund Pike, reflecting on her life.
A series of flashbacks ensue, with the plot focusing on Marie setting up in Paris, working on various projects, and fighting the board at her university for the same status as her male colleagues.
But after realising she needs her own science lab, the strong-willed academic cautiously accepts an invitation from French physicist Pierre Curie (Sam Riley) to work with him and his team, with the pair quickly forming both a professional and personal relationship that saw them wed in a modest ceremony in 1895 and welcome two daughters a couple of years later.
Rejecting the established gender roles of the time, Pierre never stops encouraging his wife's talents, and even though they have plenty of disagreements along the way, the pair views each other as equals.
British actress Pike turns in a committed performance, anchoring the various narrative threads and exemplifying the strength it takes to stand up for oneself in a male-dominated sphere.
Her dialogue with Riley is some of the best of the film, with her co-star providing the calm and assured counterpoint to some of Marie's more controversial theories.
One particularly memorable scene delves into the hurt the scientist feels when she learns that she wasn't originally set to be recognised alongside Pierre and Henri Becquerel for the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903.
As the director of the animated movie Persepolis, it's perhaps no surprise Satrapi strays away from the traditional biography format and experiments with some graphic novel-inspired elements, from the moody lighting to the neon vials of radium sitting in Marie's nightstand.
However, the filmmaker and screenwriter Jack Thorne lose their way a bit during the second act by trying to cram far too much into the narrative, with the storyline glossing over Pierre's tragic death, Marie's controversial affair with physicist Paul Langevin (Aneurin Barnard), a former student of Pierre's who was estranged from his wife at the time, and some painful experiences of xenophobia.
Marie's remarkable efforts in setting up radiological units at field hospitals alongside her daughter Irene Curie (Anya Taylor-Joy) during World War I are also barely touched upon, with Satrapi instead choosing to incorporate some flashforwards to the ways in which her discoveries altered the world in the future.
These include the use of a radium gun in an early treatment for childhood cancer as well as the devastation caused by Hiroshima and Chernobyl - though the director treats each of these events with the absolute minimal level of context.
Accordingly, Radioactive ends up being a rather uneven viewing experience, in spite of both Satrapi and Pike's evident respect for their subject.