Full disclosure: I love the 1943 Madame Curie starring Greer Garson as Marie Curie, the famous scientist who discovered radioactivity, and Walter Pidgeon as Curie’s beloved husband and supportive collaborator, Pierre. The new Radioactive takes elements of the traditional Hollywood biopic and adds modern twists. The film’s pedestrian opening depicts Curie, born Maria Sklodowska in Poland in 1867, pushing her way into the all-male bastions of science in Paris, but it soon gives way to a more novel approach. The film is called Radioactive for a reason.
Directed by Marjane Satrapi, who co-directed Persepolis” (2007) based on her own graphic novel, about her childhood in revolutionary Iran, the film adheres to enjoyably conventional depictions of Curie’s rise as a gifted, obsessed scientist who suffers no fools and wins the Nobel Prize twice. But it shifts in time and tone to also examine the future outcomes that Curie’s groundbreaking discoveries of the elements radium and polonium alongside supportive fellow scientist and husband, Pierre Curie (Sam Riley) wrought on the world, namely, the creation of the atomic bomb. Even during Curie’s lifetime, to her horror, people were dying from radium poisoning. How fitting that another recent film, Radium Girls, showed the devastating consequences of companies hiding that fact from their young workers.
Both actors are top notch here, as is the entire cast, but Rosamund Pike as Marie is outstanding in a role that, if this were any normal year, should earn her an Oscar nomination. She creates a Marie distinct from the heroine of history or from even Garson’s conventionally heroic portrayal.
Once the ill Pierre dies in a tragic accident, a bereft Marie seeks comfort in the arms of a married colleague (Aneurin Barnard) and earns the sexist wrath of her community. Curie emerges as a sympathetic, brilliant, tough as nails figure in a film that highlights both her historical and contemporary importance.