While this is in no means a recap of the film, this reveiw does contain some general spoilers for Einstein and Eddington, if you can have spoilers for a film about real people and historical events, including some descriptions of a few moments and scenes in the film, so obviously if you don't want to know anything about it then you shouldn't read this.
Review of Einstein and Eddington
The film is about the development of Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity and Arthur Eddington’s attempts to prove or disprove it. As it occurs between 1914 and 1919 and involves phsicists at the universities of Berlin and Cambridge, the context of this scientific development within the First World War creates a tension and keeps the theoretical physics firmly attached to “the real world”.
You don’t need to know any physics to like the film, but if you do know a little about Newton and relativity- I know a little, but not a lot- I think it did help add to that dimension of the story. However, if physics isn’t your thing, don’t worry- basic relatively and ideas are explained well when necessary, and it is more the importance of the discovery, and the journey of working toward it between the two men that the film portrays, rather than a physics lecture. During the question and answer seesion the makers suggested they went slightly out of their way to emphasise the importance of Newton and his role as the father of English science particularly to cater to an American audience that might not have appreciated the importance of his role and influence, and scenes where Einstein explains issues with gravity and light speed to his children b dropping eggs and throwing socks have a subtle and twofold role of explaining some basic physics to the audience as well as illustrating Einstein’s relationship with his children.
Andy Serkis [Einstein] and David Tennant [Eddington] both gave superb and beautifully contrasting performances. Eddington’s restraint, and the emotion revealed when that restraint was removed, was breathtaking. His struggle with the scientific community, his faith and himself are shown simply but not without his flaws- one moment when he accesses a forbidden paper of Einstein’s shows not only determination, but a touch of the pedancy that hints at the man Eddington will later become.
This also occurs with Einstein; while both men are pacifists the link between them and the war is illustrated particularly with the first battle of Ypres. Einstein witnesses the development of the use of chlorine gas at Berlin University, and his horror at the application of science in this way echoes with poignancy. The deaths at Ypres that result from this development go on to have considerable impact on Eddington as a person as well on the progress of his work. The issue of pure science being used in warfare also features when Einstein meets his patron, an industrialist that would have science produce technology, not only knowledge. Einstein rather dismisses him, but I felt that the fact that his work would subsequently result in the eventual development of nuclear weapons lent this theme a bittersweet air, as well as using hindsight to connect the film to the world we inhabit today.
The character’s relationships with family, peers and lovers were gorgeous and not overstated. Einstein’s work separates him from his wife and children while his non-nationalist views contrast and isolate him from his peers, including the rather nasty and contrasting Fritz Haber, of the Haber process. Eddington is similarly not accepted by society for his pacifist and non-nationalist views, but while Einstein is generally supported by his lover in Eddington’s case it is hissister that helps him. I felt that Eddington’s sexuality, which remains unclear, was handled perfectly and powerfully. Although the fragile portrayal leads me to dread any fic that may be inspired by this part of the film. Einstein and Eddington are also contrasted by their religious views- while Einsteins are stated plainly and not dwealt upon, for Eddington, a Quaker, they are a very important part of his life and worldview. I thought the different approaches to the place of God within advancing science was handled thoughtfully and was another note that remains an issue that rings true today.
Someone pointed out during the question and answer sesion after the showing that there was a lot of hand held camera work, which I didn’t think led to a negative feature of the film. The camera angles were beautiful, and maybe I am biased but some of the shots of Cambridge, filmed in Cambridge though at the wrong college, were so picturesque they made me sigh with longing.
Overall, Einstein and Eddington was beautiful, and I loved it. I thought it was very balanced, not just between the two main characters but between all the themes- physics, identity, politics, religion, love, truth- and I felt there was a real emotional intensity in all the performances.
It’s due to go out on the BBC sometime in November; due to the prominence of the First World War theme I expect it will be shown on or around Nov 11.
Since the film was made in conjunction with HBO I assume it will also go out on HBO soon, though presumably not before it is shown on the BBC. The film shown on HBO will be the same as this BBC version; despite being prepared to make changes to accommodate American audiences, upon watching the film HBO didn’t feel any were necessary.
I can’t wait to see it again.