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The Umbrella Organisation

The Umbrella Organisation

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Stuart vs Hawking, BBC
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rakspatel wrote in mycroft_brolly

Photo credit: http://www.dangerousminds.net/tag/Thinkers

Finally, on Monday night, on BBC4, I got to watch Hawking, starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. Hawking is a piece that many Cumberbatchfans say is Benedict's best work. So what did I think?

Hawking focused on the early university years of Stephen Hawking, and concentrated on his initial diagnosis of, and battle against, motor neurone disease; and also his intellectual path towards developing work on the Big Bang Theory. I was particularly interested in the relationship between Stephen and his parents; I loved the fact that the parents refused to accept Stephen's prognosis, and decided to carry on as normal, and ensure that he returned to Cambridge to continue his studies and his PhD. They never gave up and always believed that he could live a long and happy life. I found their devotion and their faith inspirational. Benedict's portrayal of Stephen's motor neurone disease, as his condition worsened considerably over the course of the film, was astounding; the physicality in the piece was exceptional; I actually felt some of the work Benedict did for this film must have stood him in good stead for when he started working on the Creature in Frankenstein. But is Hawking Benedict's best work?

I decided to compare Hawking with Stuart, which is what I have long considered to be Benedict's best work; a piece that will always have a special place in my heart. They are both BBC films, both with a running time of around an hour and a half, both serious dramas where Benedict portrays real life people who are still alive today (always a tough ask for any actor!).

Photo credit: http://www.benedictcumberbatch.co.uk/stuart-a-life-backwards/

I will state upfront that I am at a significant disadvantage when it comes to Hawking. Being an Arts graduate, who is uninformed on even the most basic science questions, I found it hard to understand or follow the physics in the film. I did not understand the equations, the concepts, the arguments or, for that matter, the passion that Stephen and his fellow physicists had for their subject.

My conclusion, in comparing the two pieces, was that my heart still belongs to, and remains with, Stuart. It always will. Why I firmly believe that Stuart has the edge is because, as well as telling Stuart's lifestory backwards, it focuses on the growing and deepening friendship, understanding and respect, between Stuart and Alexander. Two individuals from diametrically opposed backgrounds who find common ground and a shared goal which is the campaign to free the Cambridge Two. The piece shows that human beings have the power and the capacity to connect across what may appear to be insurmountable barriers; all you have to do to reach out is open your mind and your heart. And because of that theme of friendship overcoming all barriers, I will choose Stuart every time as the Benedict piece which I consider to be his best work and that personally means the most to me.

So, the Winner is, ... Stuart: A Life Backwards!

Photo credit: http://www.benedictcumberbatch.co.uk/stuart-a-life-backwards/

As always this is only my personal opinion and I am open to challenge!

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Not challenging, but my personal response naturally is not the same as your own. I think it hard to compare these two performances really.

I find his Hawking endearing – which after reading the autobiography of Jane Hawking, the real Stephen's ex wife, I can assure you is quite a turn-around and no mean feat! And yes, the physicality foreshadows the Creature and even 'drugged' Sherlock. But we all know that Benedict can do anything... even 'the science bit' which he didn't understand himself!

However I would prefer to compare Benedict's Hawking with his portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh. In terms of character portrayal, I would say that was a more direct comparison, as both Hawking and Van Gogh are universally known figures, thus the actor really had to conform to expectation. Of course Benedict pulled off both, and not just because he shares a red-hair gene with these two geniuses. :-)

I understand why Stuart speaks to you, yet it is a double lead with Tom Hardy, not a stand alone lead performance like the other two. And his character, although the real life writer, is not someone the majority of an audience already think that they know about, or have seen images of. That's not to detract from Stuart, or from Benedict's performance in it, which are entirely superb – just in an entirely different category in my mind. To be honest, I refuse to choose a favourite! Everything Benedict does is well considered and intelligently executed. That's why I admire him.

This is a really interesting conversation!

The first thing is, for my sins, I have not yet seen the Van Gogh piece and so comparing and contrasting Hawking with that was not an option for me. But you are 100% right. It would have been a better fit to compare those two pieces for the excellent reasons that you have given. Which makes me think that I really must watch the Van Gogh piece when I get the time!

Stuart is a double lead and you are right the plaudits are shared and, as I have said before, if I had to choose a performance to pick out in the piece it would be Tom Hardy's because of the exceptional character that he is playing.

Another of my Cumberbatch friends also asked me why I felt the need to make a comparison at all. The honest answer is I wanted a story for my blog, and instead of a straight review of Hawking which I did not feel qualified to do as I did not understand the physics and nor have I followed Hawking's work or read any of his books (my ex-husband had!), I decided to do a compare and contrast to give it a new angle.

"Everything Benedict does is well considered and intelligently executed. That's why I admire him." Agree 100%. In fact, the Cumberbatchfan I cited above ended her email reply to me by describing Benedict as "England's finest actor". I agree with that statement. And Benedict winning the Olivier, albeit jointly, proves that he is definitely up there in the top flight of English actors.

I never really set out to choose a favourite Benedict piece, or choose Stuart, Stuart chose me! It spoke direct to my heart the first time I saw it and I have never been able to shake it off. Like Sherlock, I have seen it many many many times over the years and it never fails to move me and inspire me each and every every time I watch. But it is a double-hander, that is actually the reason I have given why I chose it (the friendship), and that is why I always illustrate Stuart, as I have done here, with a photo of the two lead actors, not just one or the other. So I completely agree with everything you said!

Edited at 2012-04-18 11:45 am (UTC)

Van Gogh Painted With Words is another extraordinary piece of work. I think you'll really enjoy it. Vincent was a man fighting many demons, so Benedict has to cover a huge range of energies and emotions. As an added bonus, one learns quite a lot about the art movements of Van Gogh's era. :-))

I really want to see it now. But I guess I have to wait until Aunty decides to screen it again!


"In fact, the Cumberbatchfan I cited above".
The Cumberbatchfan is Beverley Jean Smith - Bev or Bes to her friends.

"England's finest actor". Beverley Jean Smith.

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