Movie Review: Radioactive

In a curious, or perhaps fortuitous, bit of programming at our cinemas this week, two films dealing with nuclear energy have opened on the same day. One is the Japanese flick, FUKUSHIMA 50, which recounts that country’s nuclear disaster of 2011. The other is the British period piece, RADIOACTIVE, which tells the story of Maria Skłodowska-Curie, the Polish-born, French-naturalised physicist and chemist who won two Nobel Prizes for her research on radioactivity, a word that she herself had coined.

Rosamund Pike (BEIRUT; A UNITED KINGDOM; GONE GIRL) stars as Curie in RADIOACTIVE. The story follows her time once she’s already in France, struggling to get both the funding and the respect that she feels she deserves for her pioneering research. Her fortunes improve when she meets fellow scientist, Pierre Curie (Sam Riley, the MALEFICENT films), who offers her space in his laboratory and the use of his electrometer, the latter of which would prove instrumental in confirming her theories about the behaviour of atoms. While Marie’s work in radioactivity is groundbreaking, it’s Pierre who gets all the credit and Marie has to fight hard to get proper recognition. With Pierre’s early death, Marie finally does get it but it’s not an easy road she travels on to get there.

The film is based on the 2015 graphic novel, Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss. Like the book, the movie also takes a look at some of the outcomes of Curie’s work, like the dropping of the bomb in Hiroshima in 1945, the American nuclear tests in Nevada in the late 1950s, and the use of radiation in medical treatment in the ’60s, but it doesn’t really work here and, in fact, these diversions only detract from the central story. Watching these vignettes, one could easily argue that Curie did more harm to the world than good but, of course, if she hadn’t done it, someone else surely would have. It also makes me wonder what happened to those people who paid 50 cents each to watch those blasts. Did they suffer from radiation poisoning or were they too far away to be affected? I’m guessing they did.

Pike makes the best of what she’s given as the screenplay by Jack Thorne (THE AERONAUTS; WONDER) doesn’t allow the actress to do much more than scowl and rage against the existing patriarchy and xenophobia of the time. Iranian-French director Marjane Satrapi, who received great praise for her debut film, PERSEPOLIS, brings some interesting creative touches to the film but, unfortunately, they’re not enough to give the story the energy it needs. In all, RADIOACTIVE is rather underwhelming.

We live in desperate times though and if you’re desperate to go to the cinema this week, then I’d say check the film out. It should have been a whole lot more exciting but it’s not a complete dud either. At least you’ll be learning something about a woman who changed the world.

RADIOACTIVE is slated to open in the US in July… although that plan may be off the table now, as so many Americans refuse to wear masks in public.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, June 26th, 8:30 am HK time!

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