Available on Amazon Prime, Radioactive tells the story of the innovative careers and passionate love story of Marie (Rosamund Pike) and Pierre Curie (Sam Riley). From the time they meet as Marie is struggling to find her place in the scientific community in Paris, through their discovery of radium and plutonium, and into the health consequences of their years of hard, dangerous work, Radioactive balances telling the story of scientific innovation and the story of two great minds in love.
As Marie Curie, Rosamund Pike is awkward and determined, but her performance is not especially appealing, except in her chemistry with Sam Riley. Her wooden performance gives the character a preachy quality when the story focuses on science, somewhat upsetting the balance between the science and the romance. Pike is not alone, either; much of the acting is of TV movie quality.
Visually, the filmmakers use some cool effects to illustrate the science. The use of luminous radium is especially striking. The glowing green is beautiful, but also ominous as the viewer knows that it is toxic while the Curies do not. These effects are the clearest example of the craft that went into making the film. Through flashes forward to the 1940s and 50s, the film also acknowledges, however superficially, the unforeseen consequences of the Curies’ research. Although the story is somewhat clunkily told, the importance of the biography and the style with which it is told make Radioactive worth checking out.
Radioactive was written by Jack Thorne, based on the book by Lauren Redniss, and directed by Marjane Satrapi (whose graphic novel, Persepolis, is fabulous). It runs 1 hour 49 minutes and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images, brief nudity and a scene of sensuality.
Streaming on Hulu, Mary Shelley follows the famed author (played by Elle Fanning) from her difficult adolescence through her creation of Frankenstein, one of the most iconic books in horror and science fiction. Although many people know of the creature Shelley created, her own difficult story is less frequently remembered. The daughter of prominent intellectuals Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin (Owen Richards), her family life was largely unhappy, perhaps leading her to run off with the (super sketch, if you ask me) poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth). During a stormy weekend at a lake house with Shelley and Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge), Mary writes Frankenstein as part of a friendly competition. The results are more important than any of them could have imagined.
Mary Shelley is a bleak, racy take on Mary and Percy’s romance and their rebellion against the social norms of 19th century England, best suited to fans of period dramas. Although its subject created a monster, this story’s biggest monster is a pretentious poet. As Mary, Elle Fanning delivers an emotional but relatively charmless performance. I think that the film is certainly worth watching for its focus on its title character’s feminist devotion to her writing and finding her voice, but in many ways—from the acting to the costumes and sets—it is a middling period piece.
If the subject of this film interests you, I would suggest two books: Mary’s Monster, an illustrated book of poems that tell the story of Mary Shelley and Frankenstein, making poignant connections between the two, and Monster She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction, an anthology about women like Mary Shelley who helped create horror and science fiction as we know it today.
Mary Shelley was written by Emma Jensen and directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour. It runs for two hours and is rated PG-13 for sexuality and thematic elements including substance abuse.
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