“MARIE CURIE: THE COURAGE OF KNOWLEDGE” — 2 stars — Karolina Gruszka, Arieh Worthalter, Charles Berling, Izabela Kuna, Daniel Olbrychski; not rated; Broadway
Audiences interested in a biopic about groundbreaking Nobel Prize-winning physicist Marie Curie may be surprised by director Marie Noelle’s film, which seems more interested in the lurid details of the famous scientist’s personal life than the substance of her work.
Though “Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge” benefits from some strong acting and atmospheric qualities, its substance feels incomplete.
Noelle’s film picks up around the time Marie (Karolina Gruszka) and her husband Pierre (Charles Berling) were awarded a joint Nobel Prize for their work with radium in 1903. Marie is in the last stages of pregnancy, and she and Pierre seem to have an ideal existence, balancing their professional pursuits with what appears to be a normal domestic existence. As their children sleep, Marie and Pierre steal out to their private laboratory to gaze at the fruits of their scientific work.
Their hopes are to derive new and effective ways of treating cancer with targeted radiation, and their fear is that others will use their work toward more destructive ends. But both hopes and fears are derailed when Pierre is killed in a carriage accident, turning Marie into a well-decorated widow.
Marie soon discovers that where previously her status as a female scientist was tolerated because of her association with Pierre, on her own, she must face more obvious and concentrated prejudices. She's met with resistance as she tries to pick up her husband’s teaching load at the Sorbonne and tries to gain membership into the French Academy of Science.
For the most part, “Marie Curie” moves smoothly through these obstacles with only a mild sense of conflict, and Marie is able to make progress with her work and form associations with her fellow scientists, including Albert Einstein (Piotr Glowacki) and a family friend and colleague named Paul Langevin (Arieh Worthalter). But that latter association leads to Marie's biggest trouble, as she initiates an affair with the married Paul that becomes the predominant focus of Noelle’s film.
It’s easy to argue that Noelle’s exploration of Marie's personal life is justified, even necessary, particularly as it informs the scientist’s more public work. But often, “Marie Curie” seems so preoccupied with its behind-the-scenes drama that it takes Marie's own scientific work — and our appreciation of it — for granted. And for a film that is supposedly holding up Marie as a figure of women’s progress, its tendency to showcase Gruszka’s nude body onscreen feels a little ironic.
As a production, “Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge” benefits from a strong performance by Gruszka, and the moody work by cinematographer Michal Englert and the lilting score from Bruno Coulais create a contemplative atmosphere. But it’s hard to imagine that the audiences most interested in the story of the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize won’t come away feeling disappointed by the results.
“Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge” is not rated, but would likely draw an R for nudity and some profanity; running time: 100 minutes.