Rosamund Pike as Marie Curie
Sam Riley as Pierre Curie
Anya Taylor-Joy as Irene Curie
Ariella Glaser as Young Irene Curie
Indica Watson as six-year-old Irene Curie
Cara Bossom as Ève Curie
Aneurin Barnard as Paul Langevin
Katherine Parkinson as Emma Jeanne Desfosses
Simon Russell Beale as Gabriel Lippmann
Tim Woodward as Alexandre Millerand
Jonathan Aris as Hetreed
Mirjam Novak as Nurse Francoise
Corey Johnson as Adam Warner
Demetri Goritsas as Dr. Perkins
Michael Gould as Judge Clark
Directed by Marjane Satrapi; Written by Jack Thorne
After making her feature debut in 2002’s polarizing Die Another Day, Rosamund Pike fluctuated between the world of big budget blockbusters and indie critical darlings, culminating in her masterful work in Gone Girl. In the years since, she has mostly been seen in more biographical fare and after turning in some of her best work in 2018’s A Private War, she has delivered yet another fantastic performance as Nobel Prize-winning physicist and chemist Marie Curie in Radioactive, unfortunately the film around her can’t quite live up to the same merits.
From the 1870s through our 21st century, Radioactive tells the story of pioneering scientist Marie Curie (Pike) through her extraordinary life and her enduring legacies – the passionate partnerships with late husband Pierre Curie (Sam Riley) and Paul Langevin (Aneurin Barnard), her shining scientific breakthroughs, and the darker consequences that followed.
The scientific pioneer’s 66 years of life on this Earth was one full of complicated relationships and empowering milestones for both the world of science and especially for women in the field, but the problem is the film can’t quite find a way to honor these accomplishments and explore these seemingly tricky areas of her life in any compelling or even truthful fashion. Be it moving up the timeline on some of her discoveries or leaving out key events in her life, namely a few that followed the death of her husband such as becoming the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, it feels like the script can’t quite determine whether to touch more on Curie’s scandalous moments or her brighter days.
In addition to an imbalance of scandal and honor, the script feels far too on-the-nose in a number of scenes that takes its themes of love for the world of science and a drive to further explore this world and Curie’s determination to get the recognition she deserves and just shoves them in our face and down our throats rather than letting them naturally flow from the dialogue and actions. Instead we’re treated to camera shots slowly pushing in on an actor or two actors arguing about their characters’ motives, which may as well be a fourth wall break of these real people stating what they’re going to do and how they’re going to do it. It just feels so forced and sucks the tension and believability out of every scene, leaving audiences to wonder whether they should care about Curie in the film or just go read her history and determine it from that, especially given the film starts at the end and chooses to tell her story as one long flashback.
Poor writing aside, though, the film is frequently supported by Pike’s central performance as the two-time Nobel Prize winner, as even some of her weakest dialogue is further elevated by her commitment to the role. From her enthusiasm over her field of study and discoveries to her passion to stand out in a male-dominated field, Pike captures every characteristic of Curie with expert precision, beautifully bringing her to life on screen in a truly honorable fashion. Though some of her fellow co-stars may not get nearly as much screen time or development as her, Sam Riley does prove to be an excellent screen partner for Pike, pushing her buttons to spark that fury and passion in compelling fashion, while also holding plenty of scenes on his own.
Radioactive is a mishmash of wasted potential, from some truly stylish direction to its breathtaking lead performances and intriguing central subject, but despite its flaws it does prove to be a rewarding and honorable watch in moments.