When people think of famous FEMALE scientists, Marie Curie comes to most people’s minds. She was Polish but moved to France and, with the collaboration of her husband Pierre, discovered two new elements, Radium and Polonium, and established the new science of radioactivity, a term they coined.
She also stands out for being the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Physics and is the only person to have won two Nobel Prizes in different categories (the other in Chemistry)
All this in an age when Science was the chief domain of men, and as a result, she had to fight some discrimination to get her science heard.
“Radioactivity”(2019), directed by Marjane Satrapi is a movie that looks at the life of Marie Curie, played by Rosamund Pike.
Based on the graphic novel by Lauren Redness, the story is told in partly a flashback fashion.
The movie opens with her collapse in 1934 and her being rushed to the hospital. We are then taken to various stages of her life, in chronological order.
it explores her life after her arrival in Paris in 1891 (the movie starts in 1893), her scientific work, her life with her husband Pierre whom she married in 1895 , the collaboration she had with her husband in discovering the two new elements, up until his untimely death in 1906, the scandal that involved her extramarital affair and finally her humanitarian work during World War One.
I'm resisting a full synopsis of the movie. Her life is very well chronicled, and worth researching and for the most part the movie is faithful to her story (though there are some glaring errors)
There are a number of key themes that run through the movie.
First is the strong determination that Marie Curie possessed, and this is well brought out by Rosamund Pike. At times it borders on arrogance and in fact her husband (played by Sam Riley ) says as much. This is not surprising since this allowed her to achieve what she did. As well as this, the movie champions Marie Curie as a female role model, who is independently minded and a few key scenes bear that out. I do see this as a strength of the movie.
Another key theme is the impact that their work on radioactivity had on the future. At a number of stages we get fast forward to future events that involve radioactivity, some positive, some negative. It seems that the director wishes to remind the audience that Curie's work had an impact on our modern world.
I’m not sure if they were necessary, but I will let other viewers make up their own mind
The issue here is that the intent seems to suggest that the Curies’ discoveries are responsible for these events. This is a long bow to draw. Not only was Radium and Polonium not involved in some of the ‘consequences’ later shown, There are many more other discoveries that were needed for those ‘consequences’ to occur.
Finally, is the point that there was a growing awareness of the dangers of radioactivity, with the slowly declining health of not only Marie herself, but her husband as well.
As a science communicator I wanted to watch the film to get a better appreciation of Marie Curie as a person, in the midst of her scientific work. I had hoped for some more detail on her scientific work, but the movie is more about her as a person than her scientific work.
So although we get a good insight on her process of extracting the new elements from pitchblende, and the resulting discovery of Radium and Polonium, it does not take prominence over the story arcs of her relationship with Pierre and her later life after his death.
Overall the science process is accurate, though not fully detailed. This includes the extraction of unknown elements form the pitchblende and then the used of chemical means to isolate and crystalise the elements.
I jarred a bit by the use of animations to demonstrate the atoms. At one point Bohr models were shown to show Radium and Polonium, when they weren’t in use until much later.
Similarly a nucleus is shown with protons and neutrons and that structure wasn't established until the 1930’s.
However, I understand the director’s choice here, as they are the models more familiar to the general public than the Thomson model which was the model at the time.
So is the movie worth watching? If you want to get an understanding of the life of Curie during the time of her discoveries, it’s fair. It is slow in parts, with some smaller themes not really necessary, such as Pierre’s interest in spiritualism.
Some parts are fictionalised. In the movie, Marie Curie is not at the Nobel prize presentation , yet in real life she did attend., though it was both two years later. Curie is seen to question the safety of radioactive substances, but this is not substantiated in reality.
I wish they also touched on her later life post war.
I found the ending a bit weird, involving her death scene. I won’t elaborate on the details but they suggested Marie had some regret in her discoveries, with Pierre saying “you cast a stone in the pond, but you cannot control the ripples”
This is probably my main gripe. To somehow suggest Curie was responsible for future events and that she somehow know this. The use of cut scenes in the future were used to make this point and they really impinged on the flow of the movie, and as stated earlier, really don’t connect well to the work of the Curies
Go and watch it but I think you will get a deeper understanding of the amazing and complex life of Marie Curie from a good biography.