Rosamund Pike is Marie Curie. Radioactive is a first-rate biopic.
Director: Marjane Satrapi
Screenplay: Jack Thorne (Wonder), based on book by Lauren Redniss
Cast: Rosamund Pike (Seven Days in Entebbe), Sam Riley (Malificent)
Runtime: 1h 49m
By: John DeSando
“I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy.” Marie Curie
I choke up with joy watching a biopic like Radioactive about Marie Curie’s (Rosamund Pike—the premiere actress of strong women) discovery of polonium and radium in the early 20th century—it’s an expert docudrama touching on the major phases, professional and personal, of the two-time (physics and chemistry) Nobel laureate’s life. Although I ordinarily am impatient about expansive biographies in film that dwell on personal life, this one carries me happily along with the weight of humanity while it features a genius giving us life-changing experimentations.
Marie’s marriage with Pierre (Sam Riley), complicated by collaboration, respect, and unusual love, is historical and complementary, a blessed union transcending the petty professionalism either character can beat up the other with.
Director Marjane Satrapi keeps a steady eye on the marriage, the depiction of which she doesn’t protect from the jarring conflicts such a gifted couple brings to the lab. Nor does she worry about the facts that are left out—a necessary omission for such a sweeping history of Curie’s remarkable life.
Besides saving humanity with x-rays, she reluctantly and heroically helps in the battlefield by demanding x-raying soldiers to make the right decisions about the loss of their limbs. And she doesn’t like hospitals—better for her the mobile ones.
More exciting than the battlefield are the scenes where Marie must battle aged male professors for laboratory support, at a time when she is to them just a woman, and a thorny one at that. Thankfully few domestic scenes break the spell of her discoveries. Even though both her marriages can be fraught, the couples still don’t overshadow the immense good she does for mankind.
The biopic reveals the downside of her discoveries, especially the atomic bombs and the sicknesses that come with radiation. While not judging her for the side effects, the film does show her grappling with the realization that her accomplishments can carry pain as well as salvation.
Amazon Prime has a winner here—take strength that even in a pandemic, scientists will find ways for us to survive. It helps to have a genius like Marie Curie once in a while.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JohnDeSando62@gmail.com