Persepolis director Marjane Satrapi brings Lauren Redniss’ graphic novel Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale Of Love And Fallout to the screen, in a film which sees the Curies (Rosamund Pike, Sam Riley) discover radium and polonium and start reaping the rewards of their groundbreaking work. However, their physical and mental health are also reaping the rewards, and none of them particularly good.
To its credit, Radioactive is a detailed and unconventional biopic that features stylish flashforward sequences that feel like eerie premonitions unravelling the future historical reverberations of the couple’s discovery. As such, the typical period-biopic morphs into a brave-but-contrived study of radiation itself. What a shame that the director’s ambitions escape the film’s grasp, as the oscillation between an intimate tale and the larger story of the rise of nuclear power in the 20th century never quite comes together in a satisfying way.
Another thorn in the film’s side is Jack Thorne’s screenplay, which saddles the narrative with on-the-nose dialogue that often feels like an afterthought or, worse, an artificial intelligence’s approximation of human dialogue. A committed Rosamund Pike does her best by playing the pioneering scientist with chilly authority, but the script never allows the audience to get immersed in the character’s psyche or fully appreciate the moral tug-of-war at the heart of the Curies’ discovery. It makes you wish that Satrapi had made Radioactive an animation film like Persepolis, as this live-action treatment doesn’t translate into particularly engaging storytelling.
Radioactive / Directed by Marjane Satrapi (UK, Hungary, France, 2019) with Rosamund Pike, Sam Riley, Yvette Feuer. Starts July 16.