Marie Curie was several things, but most famously she was the first woman in history to win the Nobel Prize. Even more remarkably, she won the Nobel twice (first for physics and later for chemistry).
As it turned out, her greatest discovery – radium – was also the thing that silently killed first her beloved husband (and collaborator) Pierre and then her.
Directed by Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis), Radioactive has been adapted from the graphic novel Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout. The biopic is available on BookMyShow Stream.
The drama opens in Paris in 1938, as Marie Curie (Rosamund Pike) is being wheeled into a hospital. Dialling back to Paris in 1893, we learn about her Polish roots, her assimilation into Paris life and her conflicts with a conservative and male-dominated scientific community, inherent patriarchy and racism.
Things change after Marie meets fellow scientist and future husband Pierre Curie (Sam Riley). Early on, she declares, “I am interested in all science that confronts prevailing attitudes.” Marie’s commitment to science is one of the standout elements of Radioactive – the title is inspired by the term coined by her.
The themes include Marie Curie’s game-changing discoveries of polonium and radium on the one hand and the far-reaching impact of these discoveries – gas leaks, atom bombs, terminal illness resulting from radium exposure, and vastly improved cancer treatment on the other. Satrapi breaks from the period story to address such events as World War I, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Chernobyl disaster.
The attempt to capture the ambiguous and contentious nature of some scientific discoveries deprives the 103-minute long film of its focus – its subject’s life, conflicts, heartbreak, scandals and genius. The narrative style is mercurial and sometimes direct, and includes trippy scenes, overlapping images and montages. We learn little of Marie’s life before Paris and her run-ins with the stolid academics at the Sorbonne.
Radioactive hurtles forward without dwelling much on Marie’s abilities as a single parent after her husband’s tragic death and the raising of her two young daughters. Eighteen-year-old Irene (Anya Taylor-Joy) is also a brilliant mind who encourages her mother to bring mobile x-ray machines to the World War I battlefield. (Irene Joliot-Curie went on to win a Nobel Prize in chemistry with her husband Frederic in 1935.)
Rosamund Pike fiercely embraces the material and her character’s complexities. In his 1905 Nobel Lecture, Pierre Curie said, “It can even be thought that radium could become very dangerous in criminal hands, and here the question can be raised whether mankind benefits from knowing the secrets of Nature, whether it is ready to profit from it or whether this knowledge will not be harmful for it.” The film’s message collides most strongly with the protagonist and her work.
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