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.
I just finished watch the film, “The Current War” starting Benedict Cumberbatch and Micahel Shannon
The film was made in 2017, and then received a director’s cut and re-released in 2019.
It was slated for cinema release here in Australia in March 2020, but the COVID pandemic stopped that. The movie being released on Apple and Google for purchase or rental.
For those that don’t know the meaning behind the title, it refers to a competition between two standards of electrical distribution: direct current, or DC, championed by Thomas Edison, and alternating current or AC, championed by George Westinghouse.
By the late 1870s, both men were already well known. Edison, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, had invented the lightbulb, phonograph and started developing a system to distribute electricity to power the light bulbs. He was by then a very famous individual.
Westinghouse, played by Michael Shannon, the great rail engineer and industrialist, had built his fame and fortune by inventing the train air brake which made a significant impact on the development of the rail industry. By the late 1870’s and into the ‘80s, Westinghouse sought to distribute electricity by a much better system, AC. Its chief advantage: it could be transformed, thus increasing its voltage, and then transport it long distances without significant power loss. DC distribution was only effective I sort distance and thus would require power stations every few km or so, and this could only be practical in large cities.
The movie carries the story as to how these two men responded to the competition between the two systems, culminating in the tender to light the 1893 Chicago World Fair.
It shows the unscrupulous tactics employed by one of them to discredit the other.
I resist giving too much away, since you may not be fully familiar to the story and would like to see the movie for yourself with fresh eyes.
Knowing the story pretty well, I was impressed by the movie to present the story with some balance. Yes, there is a bit of a ‘villain’ element, but the character portrayal isn’t too one dimensional, and you get a sense of the humanity of all the main characters represented.
Edison and Westinghouse are usually the two figures that come to mind in the “Battle of the Currents” how it is also referred, but often Nikola Tesla is left out.
I am glad the movie chooses to include Tesla’s in the story, played by Nicholas Hoult, as he makes a significant contribution to the story.
Having read a few other reviews, there was some criticism that Tesla wasn’t explored further. He did develop the AC induction motor that contributed to the eventual success of the AC distribution. But this movie is really about the vying for the better system for electrical distribution, which was predominantly a battle between Edison and Westinghouse.
Like all movies that start of with “Inspired by true events” there are some inaccuracies. Two events are juxtaposed towards the end that did not occur at the same time. In fact one occurred three years before the other. The death of a character occurred 5 years after the time portrayed. In both cases the director clearly made some changes to the story to better fit in with the narrative of the story.
I don’t think this seriously detracts from the story as a whole.
And there are parts that are stylistic and probably didn't happen. Did investor arrive on a Westinghouse train to be greatly by Edison in the snow with a circle of lights?
Apart from the excellent Cumberbatch, Shannon, and Hoult, the supporting cast also do a great job, with Tom Holland playing Edison’s secretary Samual Insull, Matthew Macfadyen playing JP Morgan and Katherine Waterston, playing Westnhouse’s wife, Marguerite.
Cinematography is excellent as is the soundtrack and the director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, uses both well to advance the story as well as connect the two main protagonists
The movie is light on physics, it is a hollywood movie after all, but I think serves Physics well as it gives a context to why AC distribution won out in the day.
So overall I enjoyed the movie and recommend it. I would especially encourage students of physics watch it, to give a bit of historical context to electricity and its supply.