When I was in middle school, I remember reading about Marie Curie. I can also clearly recall being very impressed by her achievements, especially that she was not only the first woman to win the prestigious Nobel prize, but also won the award twice. I knew about how she discovered radium and coined the term “radioactivity”. What I didn’t know was her backstory: how she fought against all odds and excelled in a field dominated by men. I also wasn’t aware of her struggles and the personal losses and shaming she faced. This is where ‘Radioactivity’ does a good job in showcasing the life of Curie and why it is important for us to never forget her contributions. What the film also does well is to show how Curie’s discoveries have proved to be both boons and banes for mankind.
‘Radioactive’ is by-the-books biopic that starts with Marie Skłodowska (her original name was Maria which she changed to Marie when she arrived in France to hide her Polish identity) meeting her future husband Pierre Curie at University of Paris in 1894. From there on, it tracks Marie’s journey from being an ambitious young women to becoming a two-time Nobel prize winning scientist who not only earned the respect of male-dominated scientific community but also changed the world as we know it forever. In her journey, her biggest ally was her husband who championed her at every step of the way, despite Marie’s mercurial temperament. He knew Marie’s genius from the day he met her and decided to support her in realizing her fullest potential.
The world has changed a lot in last 100 years. Yet, it is difficult to believe that just a century back, women were treated like second grade citizens. Marie, despite all the odds stacked against her, kept pushing through, defying the patriarchy at the time. The eye-opening closing shot of the film is a photograph taken at 1927 Solvay Conference that shows Marie as the only woman amongst more two dozen scientists.
Any other person would have basked in the glory of two Nobel prizes, but not Madame Curie. She went on to help World War I soldiers, after forcing the government to grant her the right to carry X-ray equipments to battle fields. She might even have indirectly contributed to the women’s movement that was in its nascent stages at the time.
By end of the film, you have nothing but immense respect for the inspiration that Marie Curie was — and still is. In short, the film does serve her legacy well. Rosamund Pike also does a great job channeling her brilliance and confidence. Having said that, the film also suffers from the issues that most of the modern-day biopics find hard to deal with: it bites more than it can chew. In all honesty, a life as towering as Marie Curie’s deserves a miniseries. Still, I believe, ‘Radioactivity’ successfully shines a bright light on Marie’s achievements. But like anything under bright light, the beauty of the tiny details is missing.