Review: 'Radioactive' (2020) Dir. Marjane Satrapi
Updated: Jul 28, 2020
Rosamund Pike portrays Marie Curie, a brilliant mind battling male oppression to fulfill her discoveries that may change the world forever...
Paris, 1893. Polish physicist and chemist Marie Skłodowska (Pike) is lambasted by many male colleagues, denying her the equipment, respect and support she needs to carry out her elemental research.
Meeting fellow French physicist Pierre Curie (Riley), the two form a strong bond over the thrill of science and eventually creating the theory of radioactivity. The two marry and have a daughter, Irene (Taylor-Joy).
But the discovery of such dangerous new elements, as well as the admiration of research assistant Paul Langevin (Barnard), puts a strain on Marie, and so too Pierre, as they seek to change the world for the better...
Adapted from the graphic novel 'Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout' by Lauren Redniss, this glimpse into the life of Marie and Pierre Curie is a slow moving drama that fails to excite or overly entertain.
Rosamund Pike leads the way as Marie Curie (nee Skłodowska) as she sets out to change the world with her theory of radiation and the discovery of new elements radium and polonium. These very elements, through some haunting flash-forwards during the narrative, remind us how much they have shaped the free world due to the atomic bomb. From a single vial in a dark, dank Parisian laboratory to a sun-kissed nuclear weapon test site in Nevada and the burning facility of Chernobyl, the effects of what the Curie's discovered echo through history and change the lives of all those who encounter it, for better or worse in some chilling moments.
Pike is a solid screen presence as Marie; a stoic, brave and fierce woman battling the oppression of male colleagues and the fear of her own new discoveries.
With wispy, wiry hair and a strong posture wrapped in black gowns, Marie is everything you expect of a woman absorbed by her work and nothing more. She lives for science, and thrives for the good it can bring, and while Pike never really evolves from the snapshot glimpse we are given of Marie, she delivers a strong performance and does so in a way you can't think of anyone else doing it.
With strong support from the likable Sam Riley as Pierre Curie, Aneurin Barnard as fellow researcher Paul Langevin and Anya Taylor-Joy as Irene Curie, the characters we meet live in a dangerous, competitive and ruthless world where it leaves little room for joy or wit, and the performances by all are down to earth, strong in passion and emotive.
Iranian/French Director Marjane Satrapi works with both strong source material and a leading lady, but somehow fails to create an entertaining journey for them all together. There is little to fault in the authentic set design, period costumes and attention to detail of research and science, but Marie's story limps along with very little joy to be had. There is no real development to shift the narrative along, instead rolling back and forth from one emotive moment to another, from one argument to another and one illness to another.
The run-time feels longer because of this, and while the discovery of radiation and radioactivity is not a jovial event, it feels bleaker and more painful that it probably should.
French composers Evgueni and Sacha Galperine provide a blend of string and synthetic music in an obvious attempt to link the 1800s with modern bubbling scientific bells and whistles, which works in places, not in others.
Satrapi, however, makes this subject is interesting to bear witness to and a brave choice to make a feature film about, when it clearly has shaped the world and we still, really, know the very bare minimum about.
The cast is strong and the story is somehow still relevant with topics of female rights, war and shady politics, but it does little to thrill or excite with jumbled pacing and structure.
'Radioactive' is a Working Title Films production