Radioactive (12A) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Marjane Satrapi, UK/Hungary/China, 2019, 110 mins

Cast:  Rosamund Pike, Sam Riley, Aneurin Barnard, Sam Riley, Anya Taylor-Joy

Review by Carol Allen

Iranian born director Marjane Satrapi is best known for her comic book autobiography Persepolis, which she then made into a brilliantly original animated film.  Her subsequent films have all had a certain quirky originality about them, so it is interesting to see how she tackles the challenge of the biopic.  

Radioactive is also based on a graphic novel, in this case a fictionalized biography of the Nobel Prize winning scientist Marie Curie but Satrapi, working with screenwriter Jack Thorne, has given the story of the ground breaking woman, who discovered radio activity an extra dimension in terms of embracing the later effects of that discovery.   

Anchored by a strong performance from Rosamund Pike as Marie, who plays the role with great intelligence and a satisfying tartness, the film moves clearly and sharply around Marie’s life, opening with her imminent death in Paris in 1934 and dealing with the well known facts – her marriage to fellow scientist Pierre Curie (Sam Ryan) and their discovery of radioactivity, which won them the Nobel Prize in 1903 – and the lesser known facts –  – her upbringing in Poland and her unsurprising struggles to find laboratory space in 1890s Paris at a time when female scientists were not taken seriously.  Later on, after her husband’s death, there is her affair with married fellow scientist Paul Langevin (Aneurin Barnard) which scandalized society, who then ostracized Marie and even later her work in the First World War with her now adult daughter (Anya Taylor-Joy), taking X ray machines to the front to help in the treatment of wounded soldiers. 

The main story is interspersed with flash forwards of the effects of Marie’s work both positive and negative long after she has gone.  The child being treated for cancer, the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima, the chilling further nuclear tests in the Nevada desert in the early sixties and the horror of Chernobyl.   It’s a device which doesn’t interrupt the story but illuminates it, giving it historical context.  The film also makes a good fist of explaining the complicated science of the story to the layperson. 

The relationship between Marie and Pierre is particularly well done.  It is passionate and devoted but also at times tempestuous.  Marie is a spiky and outspoken woman, standoffish and demanding, so despite their devotion to each other this is no soppy hearts and roses romance.  She gives Pierre a hard time in their courtship and their initial work together, wanting no concessions to her gender.  The underlying conflict which fires their relationship is strongly brought out when the couple win the Nobel and Pierre goes to Paris without her to collect it.  Marie did however win a second Nobel in 1911 after Pierre’s death   And despite the somewhat puzzling affair with Langevin, the everlasting bond between the two of them and their work is brought out in a most effective sequence towards the end, which summarises the film in Marie’s dying dream before her final exit. 

Radioactive is available on Digital Download from 15TH JUNE 2020

Available to rent from 6th JULY 2020 and on DVD from 27th JULY 2020