Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge
MARIE CURIE: THE COURAGE OF KNOWLEDGE, biography, not rated, in French with subtitles, Jean Cocteau Cinema, 3 chiles
Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress, the 1943 MGM hit Madame Curie has always stood as a near-ideal Hollywood biopic. Sure, Aldous Huxley’s original screenplay got trashed, deemed too literary by the studio, especially after Greta Garbo left MGM and no longer remained to portray the two-time Nobel Prize winner. Irene Dunne had also been considered for the role, then unceremoniously dropped.
It ultimately fell upon Greer Garson to depict Marie Curie, the Polish-born scientist who ushered in the new age of radioactivity, after not only discovering the element radium but also one she named polonium in honor of her homeland. While you can see the Hollywood stagecraft spinning in Madame Curie, Garson displays a reverence for knowledge that is seldom seen on screen these days — as does Walter Pigeon, as her closest scientific collaborator and husband Pierre. In any normal year, the film would have swept the Oscars, but it went home empty-handed, whipped across the board by Casablanca.
Now, nearly 75 years later, a new film from France picks up the story, focusing on the eight-year period from 1903 to 1911, the time frame between Curie’s first Nobel Prize for physics, which she shared with her husband, and her second prize for chemistry. In a sign of how much has changed since 1943, the focus here has shifted, concentrating on Curie’s role as a groundbreaking feminist, becoming the first woman accepted as a professor at the University of Paris, despite a range of chauvinistic troglodytes trying to stop her.
The film also depicts her in a torrid sex scandal. Yes, she still champions her husband after his death in 1906, but that doesn’t keep her from embarking on an affair with one of his lab assistants, Paul Langevin (Arieh Worthaler). His wife wastes no time spilling the beans to the press, who proceed to hound Curie.
Although the histrionics sometimes give the drama the air of a Lifetime movie, Marie Curie: The Courage
of Knowledge remains quite compelling, owing not only to Karolina Gruszka’s earthy, full-throttled performance as the heroine, but also the resonant cinematography by Michal Englert, especially his blue-filtered work to showcase the glowing radium. I would have liked to have seen more experiments done but that’s probably asking too much, especially nowadays, when science movies rarely linger in the lab.
Marie Noëlle directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Andrea Stoll. The pacing is brisk — never too languid or fuzzy. There are some strong interlocking scenes that illustrate Curie’s character, as when she meets a young Albert Einstein (Piotr Glowacki) at a beach resort and they share trade secrets, shuffling aside the assembled academics. We also get to meet daughter Irène, who went on to win a Nobel Prize in 1935. One can already picture the sequel.
— Jon Bowman
Experimental cinema: Karolina Gruszka
Better living through chemistry: Arieh Worthaler and Gruszka