In Reviews




The statement that would summarize the life of madame Marie Curie is, “she did it all for science”. Good and bad, she is the brilliant mind that discovered radium, radioactivity, and the elements that would lead to almost every modern day form of science. Your light bulbs, an x-ray machine, nuclear power, and on and on. For me, learning about Marie Curie dates back to my junior year of high school chemistry, conducting a report on her life and everything she did. I was fascinated by her then and I am fascinated by her today. Radioactive is a fully realized biopic, telling us about the scientist and her life, portrayed with a strong performance by Rosamund Pike. However, biopics continue to be a tricky line to balance on and Radioactive is a mixture of the good and bad. Strong lead performance, lame checklist moments in her life, mixed with an interesting approach from director Marjane Satrapi. The particles are all there, but Radioactive is not a perfect science.

My eyes rolled hard into the back of my head in the start, with a flash forward to 1934, Curie working at her lab in Paris, and falling deathly ill. She arrives at the hospital to nurses and doctors exclaiming, “that’s Marie Curie!” We get it, she’s important, but it’s when biopics spell it out for the audience, one can’t help but feel pandered to. The screenplay by Jack Thorne, based on the novel by Lauren Redniss, bounces between the standard biopic structure and director Marjane Satrapi’s artistic flair. The story then flashes back to Marie Sklodowska bumping into Pierre Curie (Sam Riley) on the street, a few brief discussions about one another’s work in chemistry, and a romantic bond is made, creating a love at home and in the lab. Hovering over their relationship is Marie’s brilliance, her constantly being held back by arrogant, bearded men, but also the threat of what their work with radiation would lead to. It would result in multiple Nobel Peace Prizes, Marie becoming the first woman to win the award, but it would also result in multiple health problems. Pierre and Marie’s marriage was a unique bond of scientists and lovers and Pike and Riley portray the marriage in an honest and emotional connection.

From a technical standpoint, Radioactive does do some things differently. Wedged in between the story are flashes forward, scoping into the benefits and tragedies of what the Curie’s work resulted in. A sequence showing a young boy being treated for radiation therapy to cure his cancer, the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, and the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Each moment adds weight to the scale of the work that Marie Curie was doing, the ramifications of what power their findings held, and the humans that could wield that power. From a directional side, Satrapi adds interesting touches of color, lens choices, and a techno score by Evgueni and Sacha Galperine that feels fit for a cool 1980’s picture. It’s those touches that I loved about Radioactive and once again Rosamund Pike continues to do fantastic work. Sadly, it always seems to be at the hands of an often conventionally formulaic biopic. Her work in A Private War in 2018 was equally excellent, but overshadowed by cold feedback from critics.

Radioactive is not a waste of anyone’s time, considering telling a story about a scientist is not always easy to make a drama out of. The work of Marie Curie deserves to be told and Rosamund Pike delivers the right performance. Sadly, there are just too many biopics these days and following the patterns often results in something audiences have seen far too often. It’s hard to make it all work, the science has to be just right.


Written by: Leo Brady

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