FilmReview by BrianPenn
Marie Curie once said ‘Nothing in life is to be feared it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less’ Wise words that define the spirit of innovation and discovery. Radioactive pays tribute to the genius of Marie Curie and a stubborn streak that took her to the peak of scientific achievement and depths of the Paris scandal sheets.
The story begins in 1893 as Marie Sklodowska (Rosamund Pike) fights for recognition in the laboratory of Professor Lippmann (Simon Russell Beale). A Polish immigrant and woman in a male dominated environment, Marie learns to tread the line between confidence and arrogance. She clashes with Lippmann, raging at the lack of respect and space for her experiments. She soon catches the eye of fellow scientist Pierre Curie (Sam Riley). They share a passion for physics and inevitably each other. Later married the couple begin research in a shared laboratory. With Pierre's assistance Marie discovers radium and polonium; two new elements that would change the world. The death of Pierre in 1906 is followed by an explosive affair with colleague Paul Langevin (Aneurin Barnard); but a damaged reputation is duly repaired as her mobile x-ray units save thousands of lives in the Great War.
Director Marjane Satrapi strives for a rounded picture of Curie, and largely succeeds without delving too deeply into the science. A micro lecture covers the basics and allows the narrative to flow more freely. Context is everything when true events are portrayed; and the consequences of Curie's work are evident from the flash forward in history; a trick used periodically to show how radium, like any discovery can be a force for evil as much for good.
Such are Curie's achievements it becomes a relatively easy story to tell. Nevertheless, the film creates an effective portrait of a woman whose place in history is assured. Rosamund Pike is excellent as Marie and supported by a similarly able cast. Images of Paris in the late 19th Century are beautifully framed and look sumptuous on the big screen. It only really falters in the contrived romance of Marie and Pierre; the idea their eyes met across a row of test tubes is horribly corny and only sends up their relationship. That aside, Radioactive is a highly watchable history lesson and you won't need a prior peak at Wikipedia to understand it.