This documentary is a personal portrait of the professor himself, author of the bestselling title "A Brief History of Time". It follows his life from his birth to middle-class parents in Oxford, his early childhood and life as an undergraduate at Oxford to his work on the physics of black holes, as well as the onset of the disease that would eventually cripple him.
While interesting, this biography raises more questions than it answers. Hawking clearly enjoys his celebrity, using it as an opportunity to lecture around the world and meet famous people including Steven Spielberg, Jim Carrey and the first man to land on the moon, Buzz Aldrin. And there's an amusing shot of what appears to be a diamond-encrusted, crescent-moon-shaped ring on Aldrin's finger as he takes Hawking's hand. Hawking has now made numerous TV appearances including a slot on The Simpsons - and a model of his character is proudly displayed - along with a large portrait of Marilyn Monroe, which gives us some indication of where the professor's tastes in women lie. At one point, Hawking says that he doesn't believe in life after death. After the screening, my friend said to me, "Why should he when he's got forty vestal virgins here on Earth?" For Hawking is now so disabled, he requires twenty-four hour care and seems to be surrounded by a bevy of buxom blondes to take of him and accompany him on speaking engagements.
Hawking continues to teach and the Phd students interviewed were full of praise for their tutor. Indeed everyone gamely gets onboard the Hawking bandwagon - even his first wife Jane, who divorced him in 1995. Her comments are an exercise in self-restraint but are nonetheless very revealing. I hope after this, some bright, enterprising publisher signs her up to write her own book - "A Brief History of a Marriage" perhaps. Tellingly, Hawking's second wife Elaine Mason, his former nurse, is not interviewed, although we see footage of the couple smiling for the cameras after their wedding and Hawking proudly describes their relationship as "tempestuous." Hmm. Hawking and Mason later became the subject of tabloid headlines when they were investigated for domestic abuse and divorced in 2006.
There is more than a little self-aggrandisement here that becomes tiresome before long. In the final scene, a Guy Fawkes party is being held at Hawking's Cambridge house for friends and family. We see Hawking taking centre stage, being kissed and spoon fed wine. I couldn't help wondering whether Einstein would have allowed himself to be filmed being twirled about on a dancefloor by a large-breasted woman. I only wish that Geoffrey Chaucer was still alive to write a contemporary Canterbury Tales; Hawking would make a great character.
At 71, Hawking's greatest work is clearly behind him and indeed he makes a crack about not winning the Noble prize. Given a life expectancy of only a couple of years in his twenties, perhaps he now feels the need to put the record straight. Hawking says more than once that each day could be his last, but I was left feeling that there was another, more interesting story to be told.