19 April 2006 | bob the moo
The populist sweep approach works but it overuses the dramatisations to the detriment of the documentary side
Starting out with the scientific ambition of a blacksmith's son (Michael Faraday) this docu-drama charts the development of the ideas that informed scientific understanding up to the point where it was all condensed into the most famous mathematical formula ever - E=MC2. This formula was discovered by Albert Einstein from the discoveries of Faraday, Lavoisier, Voltaire and others and while we are told of the main formula we also learn about those behind its development.
I have to agree with some other users when I acknowledge that the subject behind this docu-drama is fascinating but I must take issue with claims that this is a "great film" and all the "10 out of 10" votes that it has received on this site because the film itself is not worthy of the subject. It is hard not to be engaged by the basic history being delivered here, although it must be said that it is perhaps far too basic to be enjoyed by anyone who knows anything about the subject (which I pretty much don't). However it is the delivery that is the problem because this film is yet another in a recent spate of docu-dramas where dramatisations deliver history while experts contribute to flesh out the detail. Sadly, like other docu-dramas on channel 4 recently, the film relies too heavily on averagely acted dramatisations and not enough on the experts who are informed and passionate about the subject. The latter have just enough time to do the job (along with the narration) but the dramatisations are far too heavy and not helped at all by the score constantly pushing it to come across as more dramatic and exciting than it actually is. Often it seemed that the producers didn't totally trust the detail to be engaging enough.
Narrator Ecceleston veers between these two extremes. At times he provides solid narration but at others he tends towards hyping up the story for no real reason. The cast are reasonably mixed. Their performances are all good enough to act as a televisual live-exhibit (which is really what they are) but not good enough to do any more than this with a script that never required them to anyone. In fairness nobody is "bad" but it is hard to get past the fact that the narration and expert contributors are much more interesting and frustratingly given much less time to do their thing.
Overall then this is an OK film. It succeeds not on its own merits but on the value of the history and the people involved in developing the great ideas that we are swept through. Aiming for a wider audience is no bad thing but it is a shame that the film never lets the experts go into too much detail or to delve too deep, preferring instead to overdo the dramatisations. It will still be enough to engage some viewers but the lack of detail and the overdone re-enactments will put many off, as their main contribution is to distract rather than enrich.