The puzzle this week is a 1997 Enigmatic Variations barred thematic – my thanks to The Telegraph for permission to republish.
And before I plunge into the remainder of the post, let me add that the Inquisitor on February 28 is by me.
No crosswords in The Theory of Everything, but I thought it a far better film than the Turing one. This is partly because the science is clearly a backdrop to the real matter of the film, which is the Hawkings’ relationship. So as long as you don’t say anything wildly inaccurate, the context is fine – it’s like ensuring the pictures on a film mock-up of Van Gogh’s studio aren’t by Gaugin. I also felt that the portrayal of the one character I knew (Dennis Sciama, who was head of the Oxford Department of Astrophysics when I was there) was rather better than in the TV drama – David Thewlis got far closer than John Sessions did, not least physically. Amused, too, to see that Kip Thorne, the science advisor for the mysteriously Oscar-overlooked Interstellar, turns up as a character here.
(Many years ago, visiting Cambridge, Marjorie and I pondered on the distant dot hurtling towards us, and wondered whether it was Hawking in his wheelchair. By the time we’d worked out that it was, we had to jump out of his way. Some time after that, at a Hockney exhibition, we heard a curious metallic voice, and turned to find a huge bed-cum-tank plus retinue behind us. Never did work out which of the Royal Academy lifts he came up in.)
Oh well, it’s Oscars weekend – see here for a cat’s-eye view, but I’ll have my ha’penn’orth. Redmayne is astonishing, though you never quite forget he’s acting. By comparison, there’s a moment about halfway through when you realise quite how subtly Felicity Jones is ageing as Jane Hawking, and you have to remind yourself she’s acting. Her ability to age so well (aided by costume design, which is also subtly done) really knocks the much-hyped concept of Boyhood on the head (if Jonathan Coe hadn’t already done so in The House of Sleep). I’d love to see Jones carry off Best Actress, but that seems unlikely.
In the absence of Timothy Spall as Turner (his absence really makes the Best Actor shortlist look a bit naff, just as Interstellar‘s no-show in the Best Film category degrades that list), I’d prefer to see Keaton take Best Actor – what he does in Birdman is remarkable. Birdman as a whole would be a worthy winner – there’s astonishingly little been written about its homage to theatre, which is rare in cinema. The trick of the camera following people from scene to scene doesn’t merely reinforce the concept of it being a continuous take, but also pins down the warren-like nature of backstage and how you keep coming across people doing mysterious theatry things all the time. And there’s a wonderful sense of magic realism about it. The joke about the incidental music didn’t bear repeating, but that seemed to be the only miscalculation (there’s a dreadfully miscalculated bit of schmaltz at the end of the Hawking film too), so I’d be happy seeing Birdman win.
What I’d really like, as it’s given me more pleasure at all levels, is for The Grand Budapest Hotel to carry off several palms. Movies should be slightly unreal.
More cruciverbally-aligned material next time, when I’ll get back to Testament.