Radioactive review: the story of Marie Curie, starring Rosamund Pike

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Rosamund Pike headlines Radioactive, which is now available to watch via on demand services – and here’s our review of the film.

Review by Lain Y.J Z

At times, it is not narrative, but readaptation that brings attention to the stories that matter. When history is accompanied by bright visuals that demand attention, where fact can be divided from theatrics, entertainment opens into an inquiry into the human condition. Radioactive could have been the child of such a production, having many of the elements it requires, minus the ambition. The film is Marjane Sastrapi’s adaptation of the graphic novel by Lauren Redniss, Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale Of Love And Fallout. It tells the story of Marie Curie (Rosamund Pike) as she navigates the hall of academic scepticism to uncover the properties of polonium and radium, and its subsequent consequences.

From her first encounter with Pierre (Sam Riley), to her relentless pursuit of science, the despair brought forth by her obsessions is not easily forgotten. Unlike traditional narratives, where finding marks the conclusion, Radioactive attempts a historical exploration by alluding to the implications behind Curie’s research, its commodification, weaponisation, and the use of science beyond atomic knowledge. Though its treatment of the latter is minimalistic, a hint of the idea is retained, enough to keep viewers interested. Satrapi’s adaptation draws from a Victorian palette and theatrical cinematics that contrast starkly with the tragedy it seeks to embody. Sentiment is regularly overpowered by production – events like Hiroshima are reduced to fleeting poetics; paper-plane flying children and bright explosions are used to remind us of the sentiments we ought to feel as witness.

The desire to romanticise Curie’s character while recounting the timeline of radiation within a brief hour and 50 minutes is perhaps the source of Satrapi’s overt symbolism. Combined with a superfluous execution, we get an outline of sequences that comes to life only at specific moments. While the script has room for improvement, Pike’s Curie is a force of nature. Matter of fact statements that try to distinguish the character as intellectual despite being a woman are easily forgotten as we watch Pike’s character move across the screen as an embodiment of determination. On-screen, the emphasis of Curie’s challenges as a woman is not so blatant that you forget the many other roles she embodies, as scientist, as mother, as lover. Offscreen, the conversation becomes a little nauseating, though it’s easy to understand the marketability of a feminist retrospective.

In the end, Radioactive is a decent attempt at entertainment, nonetheless a disappointing treatment of an otherwise fascinating historical subject. Curie’s character is preserved as easily as the narrative is forgotten. Redniss’ ideas are retained but subdued under visual varnish, leaving us uncertain as to what we’ve witnessed.


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