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‘Radioactive’ Review: A Thematically Jumbled Biopic of Marie Curie

Amazon Studios

Comic artist and writer Marjane Satrapi has also showcased a fascinating directorial career. Her first film, Persepolis (2007), is an autobiographical marvel, showcasing the charm and humor of Satrapi’s writing. Her last film, The Voices (2014), was her first time directing another writer’s work, and with the newest edition to her directorial lineup, Radioactive, she does the same: actualizing the voice of writer Jack Thorne on film. Based on the graphic novel by Lauren Redniss, and with Rosamund Pike in the leading role, Radioactive attempts to leverage an honest biography threaded around Marie Curie’s impact on human history. Though Satrapi’s effervescent vision and humor effectively bring life to the story of world-renowned scientist Marie Curie, the film, unfortunately, falls flat.

We enter upon Marie in her adulthood, working at the Sorbonne after several years of being ground down by her male peers within the heady misogyny of Victorian-era academia. When she meets Pierre (Sam Reilly) early into the first act, she is awkward but adamant, and Pike balances Marie’s forwardness with her isolation quite well. Writer Jack Thorne’s screenplay frames the story like a scrapbook, flitting between Marie’s childhood, her thirties, and her twilight years. Within this structure, Radioactive observes the progress of Pierre and Marie’s relationship in tandem with their discovery of two chemical elements: Polonium and Radium. Although, as Satrapi perhaps intended, this love story is not the beating heart of Radioactive.

Marie is astute to her own brilliance and the injustice that she experiences as a woman in the late 19th century; however, the plot fixates on her resentment towards herself as she seeks validation through Pierre. The film procrastinates coming to the realization that Marie Curie doesn’t self-actualize through being loved by a man, and by the time it does, its own writing has undermined this arc.

Satrapi brings a visual vibrancy to the historical impact of Curie, and the non-linear structure of the film offers a flexibility that underscores the scale of this story. A brief prologue shows Marie Curie, frail and greying, as moments jump between her adult life and her childhood. Yet splicing these episodes further, with Chernobyl in 1986 and Hiroshima in 1945, arguably overstates the profound impact of her work on human history. On-screen, Curie frequently laments her worries about the future of radium and what could become of it in the wrong hands, but these ponderings become tiresomely on-the-nose by the finale: a dream-like sequence where a dying Curie visits the hospital bed of a man caught in Chernobyl’s radiation.

While Radioactive’s vision brings a freshness to what would otherwise be a standard period biopic, the film trips over its own writing. The exposition-heavy script seemingly can’t decide whether to tell a story about Marie Curie, or about her legacy, and instead attempts to weave the two together in a way that ultimately doesn’t pay off.

Review Courtesy of Glasgow Film Festival

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