Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Madame Curie


You don’t watch these ‘40s biographies to learn about the people being profiled, at least not if you have any sense. They will follow the grand outlines of the life of the person in question, where they were, the notable things they did (though those events can be seriously skewed, too), but everything else is made up by the screenwriter. I have no idea—though I strongly doubt it—if Pierre Curie was the unworldly, sexually stifled, off-the-shelf “man of science,” to whom nothing mattered except Science. And I do know that they skimmed over very important social and family relations, and completely eliminated Marie’s sister, who she was very close to.

But if you want to know the facts, read a book. The reason to watch movies like this is to appreciate the performances of great actors like Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. This was the third of eight movies they made together, and in this one the great Dame May Whitty appears again, as she did one of my favorite movies, Mrs. Miniver. All three of them are very good, as is the supporting cast.

It was such a great tragedy. As pioneers, they had no idea of the harmful effects of radiation, and did things that would make a scientist today turn white with terror. All her notes and even her cookbook from the 1890s are still so radioactive that they are kept in a lead-lined box and can be studied only by people wearing protective clothing.

But I have to say this one is particularly predictable and clichéd. As soon as Pierre turns to Marie and thoughtfully says something about what the survivor would do if one of them died, you knew he had only hours to live. And that’s only one. And the omissions bothered me even more. She not only was not shattered by his death (beyond a reasonable period of mourning) but she re-married not long after. We never see this fellow.

Worst of all, what we see is France showering honors on this remarkable woman who won two Nobel Prizes and discovered Radium and Polonium. That was not the case. The French disliked, even hated her, and honored her only when they would look like even bigger jerks than they were if they didn’t. Why? Well, first, she was Polish. Gallic xenophobia. Even worse, she was Jewish … only she wasn’t! But the rumor kept popping up, and to my mind, the biggest difference between German anti-Semitism and French anti-Semitism was that the French didn’t burn their Jews. But many of them were all too eager to turn them over to the Fucking Nazis.
So, this one crossed a line even in my tolerant view of revisionist history in biopics. I can’t recommend it.