Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge

 

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A French filmmaker puts her focus on a woman of the past who is worthy of admiration today.

 
Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge

Karolina Gruszka

  

Marie Noëlle has long admired Marie Curie and, being a novelist and a writer for the theatre as well as a filmmaker, she had a variety of ways in which she might have made treated her as a subject. In the event she has opted for cinema, being both the director here and co-writer with Andrea Still. Like MGM before her, Noëlle was undaunted by the fact that scientific details are not the easiest material to put across to a general audience. In this case, those details concern Madame Curie's discovery of radium and her research into its uses (not least in connection with cancer). Indeed, the Hollywood take on Madame Curie, a film made by Mervyn LeRoy in 1943, had been built around the relationship between Marie Curie and the fellow scientist and close colleague whom she married, Pierre Curie, thus making it commercial as a vehicle for the popular duo of Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon.

 

Given its origins as a European co-production, one might expect something very different from Noëlle and it is indeed the case that she concentrates exclusively on the years between 1903 and 1911, these dates being hugely significant in that Marie Curie won a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 and a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911 (she was unique in winning twice and no less notable for being the very first woman to win one of these prizes). By concentrating on this period, Noëlle's film takes only a few minutes to reach the death of Pierre Curie (Charles Berling) in a street accident, but it echoes the earlier movie in putting much emphasis on a relationship - this time the subsequent affair between Marie (Karolina Gruszka, chosen to fit in with the fact that Madame Curie was Polish) and a married colleague, Paul Langevin (Arieh Worthalter).

 

However, despite the stress on this relationship and the actions of Langevin's resentful wife (Marie Denarnaud) which led to the affair becoming a scandal, Noëlle's informative piece has at its centre the male-orientated society of the period in France and the struggle that Marie had as a woman to gain full recognition of her own achievements. This gives the story a focus that vibrates today but, unfortunately, by starting when it does and pushing ahead quickly, the film frequently fails to engage us in depth with the characters. Pierre Curie expires too soon for his death to be emotionally involving for the viewer and it is much the same with Marie's father-in-law Eugène Curie (André Wilms). With so many subsidiary figures undeveloped, the film calls for a magnetic performance from its leading lady. However acceptable, Gruszka is less than that and for once a film seems too short since it lacks the time to present the characters in depth (that includes the smallest of roles for the well-remembered Polish actor Daniel Olbrychski). On the other hand, it may be that the most apt format would have been that of a series for television, which would have provided the opportunity to be more detailed. As for the direction, the inclusion of would-be arty moments (from intercutting that plays around with time to some split screen images) is no help. Noëlle's strong feeling for Madame Curie cannot prevent her film from being something of a disappointment even though the material is definitely worthwhile.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Karolina Gruszka, Arieh Worthalter, Charles Berling, Izabela Kuna, Malik Zidi, André Wilms, Daniel Olbrychski, Marie Denarnaud, Samuel Finzi,  Piotr Glowacki, Jan Frycz, Edgar Sehr, Sabin Tambrea.

 

Dir Marie Noëlle, Pro Marie Noëlle, Mikolaj Pokromski and Ralf Zimmermann, Screenplay Marie Noëlle and Andrea Stoll, Ph Michal Englert, Pro Des Eduard Krajewski, Ed Lenka Fillnerova, Hans Horn, Marie Noëlle and Isabelle Rathery, Music Bruno Coulais, Costumes Christophe Pidre and Florence Scholtes.

 

P'Artisan Filmproduktion GmbH/Pokromski Studios/Glory Film/Climax Films-Swipe Films.
100 mins. Poland/Germany/France. 2016. Rel: 24 November 2017. Cert. 12A.