Here is a brainy drama, depicting the life and work of Marie Curie.
We first meet Marie (Greer Garson) as a student studying physics at the University of Paris. In a lecture hall full of male students, she faints in the middle of class. Seeing her potential and lack of friends, a professor helps Marie get a job doing research for Dr. Pierre Curie (Walter Pidgeon). Pierre is a serious man, very focused on his work, so when he hears what a good worker he’s getting he’s pleased. But when he finds out it’s a she, he gets worried and imagines she’ll just become a ditzy distraction. From the start, Marie exceeds his expectations and they start to collaborate wonderfully in the laboratory. When she’s about to graduate and go back home to Poland, Pierre doesn’t want to work (or live) without her. They marry and continue their work to make brilliant discoveries that change science forever. But of course, this is a drama, and tragedy strikes.
The relationship between Pierre and Marie is sweet in its own nerdy way. Once Pierre realizes that Marie isn’t a typical girl distracted by idle conversations or vanity, he does more than appreciate her hard work. His proposal sounds like a thesis paper and he even compares their relationship to sodium chloride, saying they’re a perfect bond. (Aww!) Some of their greatest moments as a couple come when they’re working in the laboratory. They help each other work out mind boggling problems, provide support as they toil for hours and celebrate their discoveries. There’s nothing like basking in the glow of freshly discovered radium with your sweetheart.
The film was nominated for seven Oscars, among them both lead actors, cinematography, music, sound and picture, but the one I really took notice to was their nomination for set design. A scientific laboratory looked much different in the 1890s than it would today, or even sixty years ago. The recreation of the Curie’s labs (especially the one that was once a shack) is fascinating. Just a peak at a few primitive devices is like time travel. To see how accurate these set designers are, I did a little research, and found some images of Curie’s old laboratory preserved at a museum in her honor. It’s pretty spot on, especially the variety of old jars and beakers.
I really enjoyed this film and learned more about Curie, but I do have one complaint gnawing at my little feminist bone. In the beginning when Marie faints, it sends the message right away that she is a woman first and a scientist second. If this is historically true and Marie just up and fainted one day, alright then. Otherwise, do we really need to be reminded again and again that (at the time) women weren’t exactly the right material to become a great scientist? Ranting aside, I do recommend this film to anyone interested in Marie Curie’s life or work. This film always gets a standing ovation. You’ll get that joke later.