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TORONTO 2019 Galas

Review: Radioactive

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- The incredible life story of Marie Curie is economically told in Marjane Satrapi's patchy new film

Review: Radioactive
Rosamund Pike in Radioactive

Radioactive [+see also:
interview: Marjane Satrapi
film profile
]
, the Closing Night Gala at the Toronto International Film Festival, is a film told in flashbacks and flashforwards, treading the thin line between life and death. It tells the story of Marie Curie's life, centring around her meeting her husband and the discoveries they made when working together. In its most inventive moments, Marjane Satrapi’s film shows the continuing, positive and negative impact that their work has had on the world.

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Though patchy, the biopic is hugely ambitious, as conceived by Persepolis [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Marc-Antoine Robert
interview: Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Pa…
film profile
]
 director Marjane Satrapi, starring Rosamund Pike as Marie Curie and Sam Riley as her husband, Pierre Curie.

The script by Jack Thorne (A Long Way Down [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
Wonder), based on the graphic novel by Lauren Redniss, starts off as a fairly conventional biopic, before hitting its stride after establishing Curie as a woman determined to make her mark in a man's world, and who falls in love with Pierre despite herself.

These scenes, beginning in 1893, give us time to get used to the idea of Pike playing a Polish woman living in Paris, yet speaking with a posh British accent. The British actress recently played iconic photographer Marie Colvin in A Private War [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
but there, as in Satrapi’s film, she falls short of the awards level performances that these complex characters demand.

At one point in the film, Curie goes to see a Loie Fuller ballet, which strongly suggests that the story will unfold like a dance, moving back and forth in time, but also — and more importantly — that it will be a celebration of pioneering women. Curie is forthright, telling Pierre when he invites her to use his facilities, "I will not be your mistress." Instead, she becomes his wife, has a baby, and we see several years of her life pass by in a tepid montage.

We learn that the death of her mother gave her a fear of hospitals, but also a desire to pursue science. As a woman in a man's world, she struggles to make ends meet, but everything changes once she is given the space to work. She develops the theory of radioactivity, pioneers techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and discovers two new elements, polonium and radium. Pierre's insistence that his wife be recognised as his equal ensured that the Nobel Prize committee made her the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize. She is still the only woman to have won it twice.

The film doesn't shy away from the hardships she encountered. It is in fact particularly powerful when showing the xenophobia she faced, caused by the false impression that she was Jewish. The aesthetic of the film also becomes progressively more ambitious as the film goes on, with increased use of green hues and scene transitions made to look like voyages through radioactive particles. The director efficiently packs a rich story into the film, and the personal sacrifices made by these scientists are not forgotten either.

The complexities of love also take an exciting turn when Marie Curie starts seeing the married physicist Paul Langevin (Aneurin Barnard) after her husband's death. Satrapi frames this relationship as a pivotal moment in Curie’s life, which makes her realise that her husband was her bedrock, the love of her life. The device gives the film a feel-good ending, but one that oddly hangs this story of an independent woman, and one damned for being so, on her relationship with a man.

Radioactive is produced by Shoebox Films and Working Title Films. International sales are handled by Studio Canal.

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