Despite himself, accomplished physicist and avowed bachelor Pierre Curie falls for brilliant student Marie, and together they embark on the discovery of radium.Despite himself, accomplished physicist and avowed bachelor Pierre Curie falls for brilliant student Marie, and together they embark on the discovery of radium.Despite himself, accomplished physicist and avowed bachelor Pierre Curie falls for brilliant student Marie, and together they embark on the discovery of radium.
In the late nineteenth century, a beautiful young Polish woman enrols at the Sorbonne. Mademoiselle Sklodowska is a brilliant physicist, and before long she has been attached to Doctor Curie, the shy boffin with the large laboratory. One day, the lives of both scientists are profoundly affected when a colleague shows them the strange radiant properties of certain rocks. Marie and Pierre decide to devote their careers to understanding how minerals can cause changes in a photographic plate.
Mervyn LeRoy ("I Am A Fugitive", "Gold Diggers", etc) directed this conservative little biopic with quiet professionalism. If the film never truly hits the heights, it has to be said that it is a near flawless piece of workmanship. The writers, Osborne and Rameau, produced a literate and well-paced screenplay, and the incipient romance between the two shy scientists is depicted with delicacy and gentle humour.
Doctor Curie gradually falls for his gifted student. The graduation ceremony is cleverly depicted as a crowded sell-out, which the absent-minded doctor almost misses. We hear, but do not see, Marie receive the first prize.
The critical point in the relationship comes when Pierre invites Marie to spend a weekend at his parents' country villa. Marie retires to bed, and the agitated Pierre spends the night pacing up and down in his room, not entirely sure what is bothering him. When he finally resolves to propose marriage, we see him ascend the stairs walking away from the camera: this emphasises his nervousness, because he is moving 'out there'. After Marie accepts, Pierre is shot from the reverse angle going back down the stairs - now he 'belongs' to Marie, and we see him from her point of view. The scenes which follow are deeply attractive. The studio sets of the villa garden and Grenoble are sumptuous, and the location shots of the honeymoon absolutely idyllic. The hard labour back in Paris will seem all the grimmer after this interlude.
The film is almost an hour old before Marie embarks on her discovery of radium. The experiment to separate uranium and thorium is lit from below, resembling the dramatic paintings of Joseph Wright of Derby. Infinite patience was required during the four years of toil which culminated in the preparation of radium, and the film conveys a vivid sense of the Curies' dedication. The new century begins with the gentle glow of the isolated radium sample, a beacon heralding the wonders of the dawning age.
Interesting side issues include the appearance of a very young Robert Walker as David, the lab assistant, and an equally callow Van Johnson as the cub reporter. Some lines in the script were perfectly innocent in their day, but raise a titter now. Telling Marie how much she will like his father, Pierre goes on to add, "And my mother's quite gay - you'll enjoy them both!" When Pierre leaves the house in pouring rain on some purpose of his own, Marie calls after him, "Don't forget your rubbers!"
Marie's reaction to the news of the accident is well done, but her final speech to the Faculty of Science fails to inspire. It is her work that is uplifting, not her oratory, and the film puts this across.
Verdict - Solid, well-made biopic which doesn't quite ignite.
- Dec 24, 1999