Marjane Satrapi is best known for her graphic novel and animated feature film Persepolis. Since the success of that movie, the Iranian-born director has branched out to direct live-action feature films. Her latest effort, Radioactive, is based on the illustrated book Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by American writer Lauren Redniss and features a script by in-demand screenwriter and playwright Jack Thorne.
The story charts Maria Skłodowska’s (Rosamund Pike) arrival in Paris from her native Warsaw. We see her struggle to start her own science lab, as she battle against sexism and male scientists who feel intimidated by a confident and capable female professor whose work pushes the boundaries of science. She meets Pierre Curie (Sam Riley) and the pair strike up a creative and personal relationship, which results in marriage, children and the discovery of radium and polonium. Marie’s struggles escalate as her husband is given credit for their achievements, while racism and sexism further oppress the Polish scientist after her husband’s death.
The film has many distractions that veer the story away from the protagonist and challenges the patience of the viewer. At times we see events in the future that are a consequence of Marie Curie’s discovery. Hiroshima, Chernobyl and a nuclear test in 1960 America are depicted. These segments feel very on-the-nose and do little to advance the story or help us understand Marie Curie as a person. What makes Marie Curie interesting is her resilience and her talents as a scientist, and removing the focus from this feels misleading and indecisive.
Radioactive has all the ingredients of a great film. A fantastic cast, brilliant writer, talented director and a fascinating subject. However, when all these elements are put together, the end result is a bitter disappointment. Marie Curie is an interesting and pioneering woman who deserves a detailed and comprehensive film adaption of her life and work; Radioactive feels like it has missed the mark. Maybe the story would have worked better as a television series, where time could be given to delve deeper into the relationship between Marie and Pierre Curie, the influence of their work into radiation and the background and personality of Marie Curie. With Radioactive, we have a vague, unfocused snapshot and a disappointing film that leaves the viewer unsatisfied.