In a time when we seem forced to plead with society daily to believe both women and science, the story of Marie Curie feels especially relevant, despite taking place more than a century ago. Marjane Satrapi’s Radioactive brings this fierce, opinionated, passionate woman (played powerfully by Rosamund Pike) to vivid life, chronicling how she changed the course of history with her discovery of radium.
Curie — who was born in Poland in 1867 as Maria Sklodowska and came to France in her 20s — lives for her work as a scientist. Despite the condescension and dismissiveness of the men who surround her at the University of Paris, she presses on, knowing that her research and experimentation is leading her to something big. When she meets Pierre Curie (Sam Riley), she’s drawn to him both as a man and as a fellow scientist. He wins her over by offering her lab space; eventually, they marry, producing both children and groundbreaking discoveries in the field of radioactivity.
Even with the full support of her husband, Marie struggles for recognition in her male-dominated field. The Nobel Prize committee overlooks her role in her work with Pierre and initially seeks only to honor him; he won’t accept that, and so Marie becomes the first woman to win a Nobel — but the fact that he had to intervene doesn’t sit well. While their relationship has its challenges, they love each other passionately, and she is lost without him after a tragic accident takes his life. Still, she keeps working, eventually joining forces with her daughter, Irene (Anya Taylor-Joy) to help wounded WWI soldiers. Pike plays every scene with gusto, digging into the part and really making you feel Marie’s passions.
One of the most fascinating elements of Radioactive is the way the story flashes forward to show the long-term impact of the Curies’ discoveries on the world — both for good (life-saving medical treatments) and ill (radiation poisoning, the atomic bomb). It’s proof of the fact that science is always changing and evolving; what’s “known” today could be debunked tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean scientists are wrong or that we shouldn’t listen to them. In fact, it means we need to listen better, to understand the scientific method and support the curiosity that drives scientists like Marie Curie to help us make more sense of the world around us. Marie would expect nothing less. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Susan Wloszczyna: Feminist, feverish and flushed with the need to achieve her destiny while overcoming the scientific patriarchy that stood in her way, Rosamund Pike’s take on Marie Curie, the Polish-born mother of radium and polonium, gives the biopic Radioactive an indelible pulse and a tartly brusque sense of purpose. That said, I haven’t felt so nervous for a character’s well-being since Nicole Kidman’s cabaret performer Satine began coughing in between pop tunes in Moulin Rouge! Read full review.
Kathia Woods We know a lot about Marie Curie the scientist but extraordinarily little about the woman. Radioactive gives viewers an insight to what motivated this woman, her fears, and heartaches. We meet Marie as a child as well as see her transitioning from Poland to France. I like how the film didn’t portray her as victim but more as a woman that was determined to succeed in spite of sexism. Rosamund Pike is outstanding as Marie Curie. She perfectly embodies strength as well as vulnerability. Some of my favorite scenes are between Rosamund and Sam Riley who portrays Pierre Curie. You can see that this relationship fueled her. Marjane Satrapi’s direction and Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography made specific choices in the look and feel of this film to highlight the scientific advancements. In this time as we are reexamining women’s voices Radioactive reminds us that the journey has been long, but the battle is far from over.
Leslie Combemale To some degree, viewers need to know the story of Madame Curie, her work, and some of what it led to in history. There are scenes that juxtapose Curie, in her time, and the future destruction that resulted from her discoveries; Hiroshima, Los Alamos, Chernobyl. There are also elements of Curie’s personal life that may be a surprise. For example, she was the center of a scandal that nearly ruined her completely. Through it all, this real-life, very complicated scientific genius is captured with a compelling intensity by Rosamund Pike. Fans of hers, and fans of powerful women in history will find the film fascinating and educational. Most of all, they will see Pike bring humanity to an essential figure that might otherwise stagnate on the pages of the history books, as well as showing her as the badass she truly was.
Nell Minow: Rosamund Pike is never less than mesmerizing, showing us the fierce intelligence and passionate curiosity that drove Marie Curie’s love of science.
MaryAnn Johanson Surely Marie Curie is one of the most influential people in all of human history. Her work in nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry has altered the course of civilization in multiple directions, informing new weapons to kill and new medicines to heal. She’s still the only person — male or female — to win two Nobel Prizes in two different disciplines. How is it possible that there has not been a major film about her since *checks notes* 1943’s Madame Curie? (It starred Greer Garson, who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in the title role; the film got six more noms, too.) Which was before the full impact of her work had been realized in such inventions as the atomic bomb and radiotherapy treatments for cancer. This is criminal… but it’s also entirely emblematic of the sexism entrenched in our culture that Curie battled constantly while she was alive. So impossibly loud hoorays for Radioactive. It’s long past due.
Jennifer Merin Filmmaker Marjan Satrapi’s Radioactive is an informative, enlightening and entertaining biodrama about the life, times, irrepressible spirit and incomparable genius of Marie Curie. Madame Curie’s discovery of radium changed the course of history, yet the male-dominated turn-of-the 20th-Century scientific societies and academia refused to credit her for her work. She effectively demanded recognition of the validity of her scientific research and acknowledgement that it was, in fact, her research — not her beloved husband’s. Satrapi’s superb direction captures the ambiance of the era’s oppressive male-centric claustrophobia and Rosamund Pike’s illuminating performance as Marie is beautifully nuanced as she struggles against it. The film is particularly timely because it underscores the need for accurate representation of what scientific research — including medical research — proves, and advocates for its most efficacious application. As an aside, Marie Curie is among the heroines recognized on AWFJ’s REAL REEL WOMEN List, where her importance is annotated by our #MOTW teammate Cate Marquis.
Loren King Radioactive adheres to enjoyably conventional depictions of Marie 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 wrought on the world, namely, the creation of the atomic bomb. Read full review.
Liz Whittemore Radioactive‘s transcendant score, gorgeously framed closeups, and meticulous editing make for an engrossing watch. Rosamund Pike is extraordinary as Marie Curie. She has a presence that is a perfect balance of awkward and aware. Her confidence shines through the screen. The film’s timeline begins in her lab with her early hypothesis about the atom. It is just as much a love story as it is a scientific, period drama. How falling in love with her collaborator brought inspiration and heartbreak. The script very briefly delves into Spiritualism. Marie was wholeheartedly against the practice, while Pierre embraced it’s possibilities. Radioactive slowly addresses the negative side effects of working closely with radium as well as the element’s inevitable weaponization. The historic impact of their discovery is highlighted in juxtaposing moments in time in scenes that are equally dark and uplifting. Radioactive allows us to understand how the insistence of one woman changed the scientific world as we know it. A true feminist icon, through and through, her brilliance, strength, and ability to stand up for herself and her work were truly ahead of her time.
Nikki Baughan: Rosamund Pike is perfectly cast as pioneering scientist Marie Curie — the first woman to win the Nobel Prize, which she did twice — in this engaging biopic from talented director Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis, The Voices). Pike embodies Curie’s inspirational ambition and single-mindedness, but also her vulnerability as a woman attempting to be taken seriously in an oppressively masculine society, and one who must also balance her work with the demands of motherhood. (Although this elemental of the story is not as well developed as others.) Sam Riley is also excellent as Curie’s husband and scientific collaborator Pierre, and the intriguing, time-hopping screenplay by Jack Thorne (which is adapted from the book by Lauren Redniss) deftly explores the far-reaching impact — good and bad — of Curie’s discovery of radiation. A green-hued color palette and intense electronic score from Evgueni and Sacha Galperine emphasis the world-changing impact rippling out from Curie’s singular discovery, everything from life-saving x-rays to destructive nuclear bombs connected to the minuscule piece of radium that Curie carries with her as a talisman.
Marina Antunes Marie Curie was a trailblazer, a scientific genius, and a feminist before the word really existed and Radioactive, Marjane Satrapi’s latest film, is a valiant attempt to capture the rebel spirit of this legend. Marie Curie’s larger-than-life persona is brought to life but the biopic is interspersed with scenes of the devastation that has followed from Curie’s discoveries. Although the intention is clear (Curie would be unhappy with the way her work has been subverted for war), they do little to help the film, instead drain energy from the excellent performances from Rosamund Pike and Sam Riley.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Radioactive is the catchily-titled biopic of arguably the most revered woman scientist of all time: Marie Curie. Director Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis), working off a script by Lauren Redniss and Jack Thorne takes plenty of creative risks while also playing by the biopic rulebook: start off with the protagonist’s dying moments, then rewind to her life’s greatest hits. Rosamund Pike initially seems almost miscast as the Polish-born Maria Sklodowska (a more chameleonic, less glamorous actress like Carey Mulligan or Samantha Morton comes to mind), but she manages to capture the straight-talking, overly confident, no-nonsense scientist on the verge of professional and personal breakthroughs. The movie flourishes in scenes between Marie and her immediately smitten lab partner-turned-husband Pierre (Sam Riley). Satrapi mixes in quick, impactful segments of the unexpected ways the Curies’ discoveries affected humanity (Los Alamos, Hiroshima, Chernobyl), along with many historical details that illustrate how much sexism and xenophobia Marie endured, particularly after Pierre’s sudden death. But it’s the Curies’ remarkable partnership in life and laboratory that is the most effective part of the story. Considering Marie Curie remains the only woman to win two Nobel Prizes, as well as the only person to win in two different scientific fields, there simply can’t be enough films, plays, books about her extraordinary life.
Cate Marquis Director Marjane Satrapi’s biopic drama Radioactive takes as its subject one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century, a two-time Nobel Prize winner who also happened to be a woman, working at time when the scientific establishment, indeed society generally, was openly hostile to the very idea of a woman scientist. The splendid Rosamund Pike plays the Polish-born scientist Marie Curie who, along with her scientific collaborator and husband Pierre Curie (Sam Riley) discovered the first radioactive elements, radium and polonium, with Marie coining the term radioactivity. Pike is dynamic, riveting even, as Madame Curie, and leads a fine cast that also includes Anya Taylor-Joy as the Curies’ daughter Irene, also a Nobel Prize winning scientist. The drama also features marvelous, gorgeous cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle. However, while there are many wonderful moments, the film itself is often uneven and has trouble finding its focus. Satrapi seeks to interject innovative structure with fantasy sequences about radioactivity’s future but the scenes also short-circuit some dramatic scenes while adding little we don’t already know, but imaginative fantasy sequences depicting scientific discovery are more effective.
Director: Marjan Satrapi
Release Date: July 24, 2020
Running Time: 109 minutes
Screenwriters: Jack Thorne (screenplay by), Lauren Redniss (based on the book by)
Distribution Company: Amazon
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Liz Whittemore, Sharronda Williams, Susan Wloszczyna, Kathia Woods
Edited by Jennifer Merin