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More Epic Than You May Think: Marie Curie's Biopic, 'Radioactive,' Reviewed


What's the half-life of a movie called "Radioactive?" That is, how long can it sit on a shelf before it loses its kick? Well, the makers of a Madame Curie biopic with that title hoped it would be on movie screens back in April. Three months later, they have decided to stream it on Amazon, which, we should note, is an NPR sponsor. This leaves us with just one question - will critic Bob Mondello give "Radioactive" a glowing review?

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: To call Marie headstrong would be to understate. She's arrogant, chilly, even with her sister.


ROSAMUND PIKE: (As Marie Curie) Your child is crying.

SIAN BROOKE: (As Bronia Sklodowska) Yes, I'm aware of that.

PIKE: (As Marie Curie) So shouldn't you assume some sort of motherly disposition?

MONDELLO: And she's managed to annoy the entire science department at the Sorbonne, who, in 1893, were the only folks willing to put up with her.


PIKE: (As Marie Curie) All I need is your assurance.

SIMON RUSSELL BEALE: (As Professor Lippmann) And it is for this reason I must ask you please to leave my laboratory.

PIKE: (As Marie Curie) Leave?

BEALE: (As Professor Lippmann) We cannot keep you in the manner you require.

PIKE: (As Marie Curie) But I have nowhere else to go.

BEALE: (As Professor Lippmann) Then you'll have to set up a laboratory of your own, Mademoiselle Sklodowska.

PIKE: (As Marie Curie) I lack the funds.

BEALE: (As Professor Lippmann) Then your lack of foresight in presenting me constantly with demands is something that will teach all of us a valuable lesson.

MONDELLO: Patronizing much? The search for a new lab leads Marie to a second encounter with a scientist she dismissed on first meeting and seems determined to dismiss again.


PIKE: (As Marie Curie) You look as awkward as I feel. And I made the, I think, correct assumption that we will look less awkward standing together than we might standing apart.

SAM RILEY: (As Pierre Curie) Well, that's a theory I can support. I'm Pierre Curie.

PIKE: (As Marie Curie) You do like your name, don't you? That's the second time you've told me it.

MONDELLO: Still, Pierre has a lab and can stand up to her.


PIKE: (As Marie Curie) ...My experiments will be optimized better. I will not...

RILEY: (As Pierre Curie) Well, I enjoy sharing science. And I think that by working together...

PIKE: (As Marie Curie) I will not tolerate it.

RILEY: (As Pierre Curie) Well, you'll have to learn to tolerate it. I like collaboration.

MONDELLO: And soon, to her surprise, she sort of does, too, enough to take his name, bear his children and pulverize four tons of uranium ore to isolate two previously undiscovered elements, one of which glows.


PIKE: (As Marie Curie) That's radium.

RILEY: (As Pierre Curie) Radium?

PIKE: (As Marie Curie) A pinprick or radium gathered from four tons of pitchblende. Isn't it the most beautiful thing you've ever seen?

MONDELLO: At first, "Radioactive" is a pretty straightforward biopic of Marie Curie, who for several decades was not just the only woman, but the only person to win the Nobel Prize twice. Rosamund Pike makes Marie as vibrant as she is determined, while Sam Riley makes Pierre as bemused as he is tolerant. And for a while, they're riding high, say, watching radium become a weird consumer fad.


RILEY: (As Pierre Curie) Radioactive matches for your radioactive cigarettes, radioactive chocolate, radioactive toothpaste. There's a letter in here about radioactive beauty powder.

MONDELLO: Yeah, none of those is a great idea. Director Marjane Satrapi, who made "Persepolis," an Oscar-nominated animated film based on her own graphic novel, spends a little while establishing her costume drama bona fides. Then she starts shaking the form up, leaping from scenes Marie actually got to see - her X-ray machines keeping World War I doctors from amputating sprained ankles, for instance - to things Marie probably never even imagined - Chernobyl, cancer therapies, Hiroshima.


PAUL ALBERTSON: (As Paul Tibbets) This is Colonel Tibbetts on the Enola Gay. Little Boy is now live. Permission to drop. Over.

MONDELLO: The director, who lives in France but was born in Iran, also makes a point of the fact that the French soured on Marie, who was born in Poland, and started chanting go home, you filthy immigrant at their Nobel-winning scientist...


UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, shouting in non-English language).

MONDELLO: ...Which is an interesting comment on today's attitudes, but also sort of a lot for one film. "Radioactive" is perhaps more ambitious than seamless, but its portrait of a pioneering scientist is at once romantic and fiercely feminist. And whatever the film's other flaws, that is a nice combination. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
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