From the 1870s through to modern day, Radioactive is a journey through Marie Curie's (Rosamund Pike) enduring legacies - her passionate partnerships, scientific breakthroughs, and the consequences that follow.
In late 19th century Paris, Marie met fellow scientist Pierre Curie (Sam Riley). The pair went on to marry, raised two daughters and changed the face of science forever by their discovery of radioactivity. In 1903, the pair jointly won the Nobel Prize in physics for their discovery, making Marie the first woman to win the esteemed prize.
After the death of her beloved Pierre, Marie's commitment to science remained unwavering and her work went on to win her a second Nobel Prize, taking with it the responsibility for discoveries which changed the world. This is a bold, visionary depiction of a legacy of an extraordinary life, the transformative effects and ensuing fallout of the Curie's work and an exploration of how this impacted the defining moments of the 20th Century.
Starring BAFTA and Academy Award® nominee Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl, A United Kingdom), Sam Riley (Control, Maleficent), Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Split) and Simon Russell Beale (The Death Of Stalin, Into The Woods) and directed by Academy Award® nominated Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis, The Voices), Radioactive is a cutting-edge historical drama which delves deeply into Marie Curie's life and the aftermath of her discoveries.
Adapted from Lauren Redniss' graphic novel 'Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout', the screenplay was written by Jack Thorne (Wonder, Channel 4's Kiri, Harry Potter And The Cursed Child).
The film is produced by Shoebox Films' Paul Webster (Atonement, Eastern Promises, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen), together with Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, co-chairmen of the BAFTA award-winning production company Working Title Films (The Darkest Hour, Les Miserables, The Danish Girl, The Theory Of Everything, Rush).
StudioCanal and Amazon Studios co-financed the feature film, which was filmed on location in Budapest and Spain.
In 1903 Marie and Pierre Curie won the Nobel Prize in physics for their discovery of radioactivity, marking the first time the prestigious award had been bestowed on a woman. After Pierre's sudden death, Marie continued her work and won a second Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911. Marie Curie is an icon of the scientific world, a pioneer not just as a scientist but also as a woman working within a man's world whilst women were still campaigning for the right to vote.
Together, the Curies discovered two new scientific elements, radium and polonium, with remarkable properties which would have consequences, both good and bad, that are still impacting us today - nuclear weapons, radiation for medical treatment and nuclear energy. Their working and romantic relationship turned them into celebrities, but after Pierre's death in 1906, Marie's reputation took a blow after she had an affair with a married man.
"Radioactive is the gripping story of the life and the work of Marie and Pierre Curie," says producer Paul Webster. "But it's also the story of the consequences of their work. So at once, it's an historical biopic of a great woman and her husband and a story of the impact of their discoveries on the 20th century and beyond."
The film aims to give audiences a sense of how important Marie Curie is and the vital role she played in changing the course of human history.
"Everybody knows her name but hardly anyone can tell you much about her," says Webster. "Marie and Pierre Curie are very important. They changed the history of the world with their discovery of the twin elements of radium and polonium and that there was a fundamental instability at the heart of the universe. As we say in the story, they picked up the pebble and they cast it in the pond, but they're not responsible for the ripples. The consequences of their discoveries and the immense power that can been harnessed through them have been put to terrible use and to very good use: radioactivity at once causes cancer and cures cancer. At the heart of this story is an extraordinary mind that was able to get to grips with how the universe was formed, and how mankind could interact with two of its most powerful elements."
Producer Paul Webster was sent a copy of Lauren Redniss's graphic novel 'Radioactive : A Tale of Love and Fallout' in 2012. He was immediately hooked. "It's a very beautiful book," he says. "Beautiful, poetic, deeply serious about the science, unafraid of getting into an emotional journey around science, and about a really inspirational woman. So I optioned the rights with my company Shoebox Films, and Working Title came on board as producers with us. It contained the seeds of everything that we've grown into the film."
Webster then approached Jack Thorne to adapt the novel for the screen. "Jack was the only person I could think of who could write the screenplay and he came back immediately, said, 'Yes, I love it.'," says Webster. "He had a hell of a time with the adaptation. It was so complex, and he was trying to capture the sense of the book, which deals not only with the life of Marie and Pierre Curie, but deals with the life of their discoveries. So it's like a biopic at once, of a woman, but also of her scientific discoveries.
"Marie Curie led an uncompromising life," continues the producer. "She never let her femininity get in the way of her achievements. She was also relentlessly honest, relentlessly true to herself. And she was poetic and for me represents the ultimate marriage of arts and science, and perhaps even more, the ultimate marriage of love and science. That gave Lauren Redniss, and then Jack, license to roam around in history. So in a sense, the film is a history of the 20th century. We created a pretty complex time frame, where we go forward in time to beyond Marie's death, or we go back to when she's a child. We move around quite freely within the story - it travels from the 1870s to the 1980s and includes almost every decade in between, from Chernobyl, to Hiroshima, to the introduction of radiography machines, the first mobile X-ray units. We see the good and the bad consequences of Marie and Pierre's discoveries, the discovery of an element and then the consequences of that discovery in a scene which is utterly unrelated. That was a challenge for Jack. He kept calling me saying, 'This is the most difficult thing I've ever done, but I love this amazing woman'. Jack's final script was unique, unlike any script I've ever read."
Taking up the challenge of directing the film is Marjane Satrapi, whose animated film adaptation of her graphic novel, Persepolis, about her upbringing in Iran, was nominated for an Academy Award®.
Paul Webster explains Satrapi's involvement: "The project gained momentum in 2015 when people began to realise that it was a very good script. We made a decision early on that we would only make the film with a female director. We were ahead of the curve of the recent, very welcome uprising in feminist sensibility. We had a film about a very strong, uncompromising woman, a woman who succeeded beyond all the odds."
In 2016, Webster became aware that Marjane Satrapi was interested. "At that point I knew Marjane from Persepolis. I knew she was a fabulous human being, and that Persepolis was kind of a masterpiece. Marjane read the script very quickly and began a relentless campaign to become the director of the film, besieging us. At one point she said, 'If you give me this job, I will come to your house and clean it with my eyelids.' So we knew, whatever happened, we were going to have a lot of fun making the film, and with a very interesting person.
"The thing that impressed us all was she knew the subject very, very well," continues Webster. "She has a scientific mind being a mathematician. And she really understood the connection between the science, our make up as human beings and our emotional lives. This script synthesised all these things: on the one hand, it is a very emotional love story that goes wrong because one of the love interests dies; but on the other hand, it's a story about overcoming odds. It's also a story of scientific achievement which resonates today. When I saw Marjane's live action films, I realised she was a very capable director and so we were on."
For Satrapi, it was the screenplay's ability to bring a number of different - and seemingly incompatible - elements together that immediately captivated her. "Everything that I love was in the script," she explains. "It's not a film about one subject, it's about love, and it's about the ethics of science, which is extremely important to me. Most of the time we blame the scientist for the discovery of something. Science is for me synonymous with being human and curious, and the film addresses the lasting effects of a discovery which I thought was highly important to talk about. The science combines with the love story and basically this is the only story that I know where their love story, their discovery and their death is one and the same story. All the best love stories involve some kind of drama and that's what makes it a beautiful love story, because it's very dramatic. I knew when I read the script that I had to do it."
Once Satrapi was on board, she worked in tandem with Jack Thorne to hone the script both thematically and structurally. Says Paul Webster: "Marjane researched it relentlessly, building very good relationships with the Marie Curie Museum and Institute in Paris. She made sure that everything - all the science - in the script was accurate, which was vitally important because if you're going do a movie about science, you better get your science right! Our film attempts to demystify the work and keep it accessible, both on an emotional and an intellectual level."
Satrapi continues: "It was a very eccentric project, which is what I like, and I knew it was going to be complicated which I also like. But after a week of thinking about it I could see very clearly what the film would look like, which doesn't often happen, and once I could see it I knew the film had to be mine. There was no alternative."
Paul Webster recognised how Satrapi could see parallels of her own life in Marie Curie's. "As a woman who came from another country and ended up in Paris, the project really resonated with Marjane," he says. "She felt a kinship with Marie, who arrived in Paris from Poland as Maria Sklodowska and reinvented herself as Marie Curie. What they also have in common is that neither define themselves by their gender. Marie Curie never defined herself as a successful woman. She defined herself as a successful scientist. Gender was irrelevant to her, and I think Marjane is very much of that mindset as well."
Satrapi elaborates: "I don't think Marie ever thought, 'Oh, I'm a woman, so my brain might be smaller than a man'. I think she knew that she was more than equal to the men around her, even better most of the time. But I think the best example is that - and that is what we underline in the film - she never makes a big fuss about her being female. In one of her letters Marie Curie wrote that she always struggled more from a lack of funding than from being a woman. The 1900s were actually a moment of freedom and liberation for women.
"I also really liked that Marie isn't always nice in the film," continues the director. "So many films portray women as nice, only men are allowed to be unpleasant in a film. But we wanted to show that she sometimes had to be tough. If she thought something was right, she would just say it irrespective of social norms. It's this interesting oddity in her that I tried to show."
Satrapi also saw the character of Curie as an antidote to the stereotypes usually found on the big screen. "Almost anything I've seen about any female in the world, she's the wife of..., the mother of... the child of, the sister of, they're always related to someone," says the director. "From what I learnt about Marie Curie, she was not Pierre Curie's muse but rather they are two brilliant spirits - for the time they are an absolutely modern couple. Pierre Curie came from an extremely open-minded background, not the average Catholic French family, and he wanted a wife who he could work with and who would challenge him. 1886 was an era of huge discovery, whereas now we live in a world of innovation where we just enhance the discoveries that we already have. It was an extremely exciting time and you can see it in the way the women were received. It was much easier for Marie Curie working when she did than for her daughter working in the 1940s and 50s. It was a very modern time and that is what is so attractive about this couple."
When it came to discussing how to successfully convey the science themes on the big screen, Webster was impressed by Satrapi's simple but effective approach.
"Marjane knew this element was very complex, so she insisted it was dealt with very simply and honestly. That was her approach - there are no frills to her direction, there's nothing fancy, she's not trying any tricks at all. It's all very straightforward."
Satrapi's mathematics background came in useful for her preparation which was rigorous and searching. "I read a lot," she explains, "and I can now almost explain to you how to make an atom bomb. You are not going to necessarily use all the information you research, but it makes you see differently. There's also no room for ignorance when you are talking about science, it's very precise, which is what I like about it. It's the only subject on which we can be objective."
Satrapi also created a series of storyboards or animatics to show how the film would deal with the jumps from the Curies' story to the scenes showing the effects of their discovery. These include an atomic test site and explosion in the 1950s and a hospital scene with a young boy undertaking pioneering radiotherapy.
When it came to casting Radioactive, the filmmakers knew that the actor playing Marie Curie would be the nucleus around which all the other cast would revolve. They searched for an actor who could play younger and older - for the role sees Marie age from 24 to 67 - and most importantly, had the innate intelligence to understand the science and portray convincingly one of the world's greatest minds. They turned to Rosamund Pike, who responded immediately not only to the screenplay but also to Satrapi's approach as a director.
"I needed an actor who was dedicated and brilliant and Rosamund is exactly that," says Satrapi. "She learnt the science to the extent that she would correct me on it. I thought I knew everything, but she knew better than me. She can be very focused, but as soon as she smiles it's as if she has swallowed the sun and it shines out of her. Her generosity is incredible. I cannot praise her enough."
Satrapi wooed Pike with a gift of the screenplay, the book and a letter. "It was a very seductive little parcel," recalls Pike. "I opened this book and was immediately struck by its beautiful illustrations which were strange and whimsical and scientific. I then read the script and I found it moving and powerful and brilliant with a story of real power. Marjane's letter was funny and strong and inviting, rather than sycophantic and persuasive. I knew her humour from Persepolis and her other films and I share that. We see life and its oddity, beauty and idiosyncrasies in quite a similar way. We had a complete meeting of minds when we met. We loved the same things about Marie Curie as a character: the fact that she's unapologetic, she has no filter, she's outspoken, she's bold, she's not essentially charming, and yet she's charming because of all her oddities. After that meeting it was something I just knew I had to do."
Satrapi showed Pike the animatics she had created to explain the jumps in the narrative from the present day of the film - Marie Curie's story - to the scenes showing the effects of her work - the atomic bomb tests, the hospital scenes, etc.
"I thought, 'She sees it, she knows it, it's in her soul, she was the perfect person to do it," says Pike. "Her animatics helped all the way through the production process. Everybody was able then to come on board her vision, from the designer and the cinematographer to the hair and make-up design or costume. It was very clear that everyone was working towards the same goal."
Pike saw Marie's childhood growing up in Russian-occupied Poland, where she and her sister were forced to study the Russian curriculum, as the key to her character. "Anything the sisters wanted to learn outside the curriculum had to be done in secret," explains the actor. "That gave the young Marie fight. When she arrived in Paris and enrolled at the Sorbonne, she was one of only 23 women in a science faculty of 4,000. At the time, in France, the word étudiante, the feminine version of the French for student, was only used to describe the girlfriend of a male student; there wasn't even a word for a female student. But Marie excelled and came top of her class. But she was noted for being quite odd and outspoken and having no real gentleness in her approach to things, because she didn't really see any point. She wanted to get things done, and she was only really interested in science."
Her discovery which she named radioactivity was the single most extraordinary discovery of the 20th Century. "The world soon went mad for it," says Pike. "It has a very romantic sounding name; it feels full of light and it glowed green. It was like a wonder drug. And everybody wanted a piece of it. It seemed like the solution to all energy problems forever - it could be in light, it could be in toothpaste, it could be in watches, it could be in matches, it could be in your baby clothes, it could be in your face creams and give you the glow you've always wanted. Then a doctor achieved some tremendous results in shrinking a tumour by strapping a bit of radium to the face of a patient with facial cancer.
"What they didn't know at the time, is that there were tremendous ill effects from exposure to radiation as well," continues Pike. "So in a way, this is a story of great power, and how that great power, when harnessed in the wrong way, can lead in multiple directions, can lead to great good, and can lead to some tremendous potential for ill-use as well."
Pike was inspired by Marie Curie's sheer determination and strength and how she and Pierre endured working in the most difficult conditions until they made their discovery. "I find it incredibly exciting, and it shows the potential of the human mind, to suspect, to suppose, to predict then prove it was inspiring, tremendously inspiring," she says.
Pike undertook science lessons in order to fully understand the character. "I thought I couldn't own this part unless I completely understand what I'm saying," she says. "I needed to know what she's thinking when she's observing and when she's doing experiments. That sparked an interest, and then I started reading more and more books about her, and I came to adore her, because of her spirit, because of unwillingness to pander to other people's expectations, because she had the freedom of spirit that led her to pursue what she believed in, irrespective of what others thought she should do or of social niceties or of expectations of her as a mother."
The actor was also moved by how the Curies' discoveries impacted on society at the time in a way that is almost unfathomable now. "I can see why the world took to this in the way that they did," she says. "It was about making the invisible visible. We live in a world where we've known about this all our lives. But imagine you'd never seen inside the human body, and suddenly there is the skeleton! You can see why at the same time as the science was taking off, the world of supernaturalism and spiritualism was also taking off. Suddenly the spirit world seemed to be very close to us, and maybe the dead could be made to appear! It must have been a very giddy, heady time."
While there was real science being portrayed on the screen, there was a kind of alchemy taking place off screen, according to both Satrapi and producer Paul Webster.
Says the director: "I saw Rosamund arrive as Rosamund, and an hour later, when she came on set, I would think, 'She's swallowed Marie, there is no Rosamund left!
Webster concurs: "Rosamund's physical transformation was startling. As Marjane says, she went into makeup and hair as Rosamund Pike and came out as Marie Curie! Rosamund said that she wasn't acting a lot of the time, that she was just so immersed in the character, that the choices she made were automatic. They were unconscious, she was really, really in the part. And one got that feeling from the start of principal photography... that she was giving an extraordinary performance. That the depth and the texture of her work was startling."
Webster also recognises Pike's brilliance in making the character her own and bringing a sense of humour to the part. "On the page Marie Curie is very uncompromising - rude, confrontational, brash, arrogant. What Rosamund did was very nuanced. There were scenes I'd read as being quite confrontational but Rosamund made them much more playful. Rosamund is a natural comedian with brilliant comic timing and she brought a lot of that to the story."
Pike also brought out the great love Marie felt for Pierre. "It was a great love story, between two great scientists and two great humans," he says. "Her letters to him after his death are extraordinarily powerful and heart-rending. She was utterly devoted to this man, and he to her."
That love story struck a deep chord with the actor. "I consider Marie and Pierre one of the greatest love stories I've come across," says Pike. "I believe that they were soul mates who were meant to find each other and were meant to do this work together. It's so rare for two people to have a complete meeting of minds, to work to the common goal. And when he died so tragically, it crushed her. She was never the same. It was the fact that there were two sides to this woman that really got me. Here is this brilliant, quite severe, sometimes odd creature, who underneath has this well of emotion and love for this person that most people never saw. And I think that's even the most beautiful kind of love, the love that no one sees."
Stepping into the shoes of Pierre Curie is Sam Riley. Pike was already a fan and keen to work with him and when he came in for a reading, the filmmakers were impressed by the immediate chemistry between the two actors.
"There's an electricity between them," says Webster. "It really humanised the character of Marie, making her softer and gentler. Sam was able to bring a beautiful generosity to the character. He knew Pierre was as important as Marie in real life but that our film is really about Marie Curie. He was selfless."
Pike was well aware that she needed the perfect foil to create the character of Marie. "I don't believe you create anything on your own, it's all to do with the other person," she explains. "So there was a tremendous amount riding on who got the part. With Sam it was immediate - there was just a connection that was Marie and Pierre. I knew at once that we could create their humour, their oddity, their lack of convention."
Satrapi also saw Riley's ability to bring out the humanity in Pike's Marie Curie. "She is a little bit odd," she says. "The level of concentration required to do what she did day after day is incredible. Riley helped to make this oddity very playful; she amuses him and makes him laugh and that makes her more likeable. He did a wonderful job with this role and I really enjoyed working with him."
For Sam Riley, the film presented the opportunity to learn about the Curies and the spectacular impact they had on modern history: "I knew very little about the Curies, and I didn't realise quite how extraordinary Marie Curie was, and quite how extraordinary they were as a couple," he says. "I thought the script managed to capture the excitement of living during those incredible years - from 1890 to 1910 - which witnessed the discovery of so many wonderful things from electricity to flight to radium.
"I loved the way the screenplay captured the relationship as well, of these two brainiacs," he continues. "Pierre was raised in a non-religious family which was quite unusual for the time and when he met and fell in love with Marie Curie, he was working with his brother Jacques on the invention of the quadrant electrometer, which measured the electrical values of different materials. What's so marvelous is that they complemented one another so completely. What one lacked, the other had, and they weren't just deeply in love with one another but also in his work which was exactly what she needed to help her discover these two unknown elements that were hiding inside uranium. The story of Marie and Pierre is undoubtedly one of the most perfect unions of man and woman in both love and shared ambition and destiny. They were two people who found each other, that had the same drive, the same ambitions, and the same humbleness, in what they were doing. They believed only in the science."
Like Rosamund Pike, Riley also spent time exploring the science behind the experiments he was to undertake and talk about in the film as Pierre Curie. This included studying chemistry and physics primers and attending a lecture at the Marie Curie Museum in Paris. "Rosamund is very intelligent and takes her homework very seriously, and I knew that if I was going to be on screen next to her, she could definitely pull off the genius professor, so I had to do my homework!" he laughs. "It was inspiring to be working with somebody who is so at the top of their game as Rosamund is. It forces you to lift your game. She really does inhabit this part. She's really one of our finest actors and so I'm really very happy to have worked with her."
Working with Marjane Satrapi was also a thrill for the actor. "Marjane has an artist's eye for things as an illustrator and Anthony Dod Mantle, our director of photography, has an incredible visual flair too," says Riley. "Their vision for the film really excited me. I've done period stuff before and it can be quite stale and dull but when I read this, I knew it had no chance of being that."
Rounding out the cast are Aneurin Barnard as Paul Langevin, who becomes Marie's lover, Simon Russell Beale as Professor Lippmann, the Professor of Physics at the Sorbonne, Katherine Parkinson as Paul Langevin's wife Jeanne, Sian Brooke as Marie's sister Bronya, and Anya Taylor-Joy as the Curies' daughter, Irène.
Aneurin Barnard plays Paul Langevin, a fellow scientist working alongside Pierre Curie. When Pierre dies, he embarks on a doomed affair with Marie and the ensuing scandal casts a pall on Marie's reputation.
"Paul knew and worked with the Curies from the very beginning", says Barnard. "He was there through thick and thin as a friend, a colleague and then ultimately as Marie's lover. He loves science as much as Pierre and Marie and he's in awe of them both. They have a wonderful, exciting triangle. I think he falls in love with the both of them at the beginning but he is married with a family. When Pierre dies, he and Marie are like two magnets connecting. He really loved her but society didn't look very well upon a married man having affiliations with a woman like Marie and he had to walk away from the relationship. It would be easy to ask how he could bring himself to have an affair with the widow of his friend who he also worked with. But it's more complex than that: Marie kept very few people close to her, and Paul was one of them, and he fell head over heels for her."
Rising star Anya Taylor-Joy plays Irène Curie, who became a Nobel winning scientist in her own right. As Paul Webster explains, "We needed somebody phenomenally talented to play the older Irène, who had the kind of steel to compete with a very difficult mother like Marie Curie. It's not a big part but Anya Taylor-Joy really saw an opportunity to play somebody completely different. She stands up to her, she holds her own and delivers a lovely performance. She really went for it. She was only 21 and she loves what she does and she gives it her everything. She is a joy to be around."
For her part, Taylor-Joy saw the similarities between mother and daughter: "Irène has grown up with amother who has always encouraged her to think and who has said things as they are," says the actor. "I think Irène has that same quality. They're really good friends, they care about each other immensely. And they're the only mother/daughter duo to both win Nobel prizes, which is quite spectacular. "There's a nice juxtaposition of science and human emotion which makes the story riveting," continues Taylor-Joy. "I wondered initially if Marie and Irène had been estranged because of Marie's work. Did science completely take over? But I found it's exactly the opposite: they both have such brilliant minds and they think the same way and act the same way, and so they in fact have a beautiful, tender relationship that's been wonderful to play. She's so proud of her mother. It was wonderful to play that."
In a way, fact followed fiction: Taylor-Joy's admiration for Rosamund Pike mirrored Irène's pride in Marie. "I was a huge fan of Rosamund before we met because she's such a dedicated, committed actor," says the younger star. "She was so completely determined, even making notes about Marie Curie being left-handed. She thinks about absolutely everything but she also brought so much humour to Marie which I loved. She plays Marie in a way that is entirely believable. I felt an immediate bond with her as soon as we met."
Working with Marjane Satrapi was also an inspiration. "I adore Marjane more than anything," says TaylorJoy. "She's an absolute hero. She knows exactly what she wants, she keeps everything happy and light, she cares about you and the character. I never felt silly asking her a question because she'll either say yes or no, and you have your answer, there's no kid gloves. She's also having so much fun and she desperately cares about these characters because they were real people whose story she feels she has a duty to tell correctly and to do them justice."
When it came to the look, Marjane Satrapi insisted on one thing: that the film be beautiful. "I'm an aesthete and I come from a painting background," she says. "I can't stand ugliness. I'm attracted by beauty."
Her behind-the-scenes collaborators include cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, production designer Michael Carlin and costume designer Consolata Boyle. "Both Anthony and Michael have similar aesthetics to me, and Consolata is genius," says the director." I had great people to collaborate with. We didn't all always agree on everything, but if it can be done in a friendly way and with grace, then it's fun."
While Satrapi insisted on a beautiful look, she also wanted authenticity. "We tried to avoid the problem I find in a lot of period films where if it's set in the 1950s, all the furniture and costumes date from the 50s," she explains. "In real life you would have furniture and objects from many different eras. People also had far fewer clothes then and they looked used. In 1900, there were no chemically-made dyes so we tried to get as close as possible to the colours they would have used. As the story is quite surreal, we needed the background to be really grounded or else it wasn't going to work."
Satrapi's preparations included making animatics and storyboards which helped with creating the tone of the film for her collaborators to work from. When it came to the shoot, however, the director and her team often found they would be forced to improvise because the proportions in real life didn't always work. "The preparation is the most exciting moment of the creation for me, the effort and the amount I learn from getting involved in the subject," she says.
Filming cranked up in February 2018 and took place on location in Budapest standing in for Paris, Almeria in southern Spain for the atom testing Nevada desert scenes, and the scenes of the nuclear plant disaster at Chernobyl were filmed in a studio in Budapest.
Paul Webster explains: "Because the film is set in so many epochs and so many different places, we made a decision early on not to make the film in Paris because it's too difficult and expensive. You can shoot late 19th Century and early 20th Century "Parisian" interiors more easily in Budapest than in Paris. There's more freedom. The city dates from the same era as Paris - Pest was built in the 19th Century by some of the same architects - and there are a great variety of locations."
The man charged with bringing together the very numerous era-hopping sets on the film was production designer Michael Carlin. "The film doesn't really conform to any existing genre of cinema, because it goes narratively in different directions, in different countries and in different time periods. So it was a challenge, but a very exciting one," he says. "The biggest challenge - and most exciting thing - was making a coherent visual whole out of it, because while it's a very coherent script, it jumps around in time and place so much - there are 48 different sets - so we had to think about how to glue it all together with a consistent visual language."
The biggest challenge was the logistics of quickly creating the many different worlds in the film. "The film starts in 1934 with the aged Marie Curie and then goes in two directions - back through her life and from the beginning of her life forward, in an overlapping narrative," Carlin says. "All the major plot points are illustrated by events that were made possible by the discovery of radium and the splitting of the atom. We were trying to stage these really quite momentous events with a kind of shorthand.
"Usually a film takes place in one place or period and there's one language," he continues, "but here we're dealing with so many different languages - even the French content spans a 50-year timespan. We're dealing with the introductions of different kinds of technology so we were filming in a laboratory for five days which on the film spans 40 years and the technology completely changes throughout. This meant having to turn around the set dressing very dramatically in a very short space of time."
Gluing the film together were various motifs, which included the theme of the hospital. Carlin explains: "Marie Curie was instrumental in many medical developments, but in our story she's afraid of hospitals, she won't go in one although in certain scenes, she's forced to. We created a hospital complex where you can seamlessly go from 1874 Poland through a door into 1960s America, and then through another door into the hospital ward in Pripyat near Chernobyl, after the explosion in 1986, and then through another door, through a part of Chernobyl now, and down this enormous corridor - 120 metres of corridor - which is where her death plays out and the end of the film happens."
Carlin and his team recreated the hospitals inside the former headquarters of the national Hungarian railways, (MAV) an enormous, imposing building whose endless corridors and maze of rooms became the production's main interior location.
The corridors of the hospital were mirrored in the several tunnels that feature in the film, including in metal tunnels in the Chernobyl plant and the tunnel as Marie Curie buries her mother as a child in Poland in the 1870s. "There's the language of the hospital which we spread through the rest of the film which brings it all together visually," says Carlin.
Carlin also used radium as a recurring motif: after all, the film is as much a biopic of radioactivity as of Marie Curie. "We tried to illustrate the energy of radium in a variety of ways," says Carlin. "So there are things fizzling in test tubes in very small detailed shots, and as we go through the film, the colours get more saturated and a glow of radium suffuses the film."
Creating the costumes was Consolata Boyle who responded immediately to Marjane Satrapi's vision. "Marjane has such a wonderful, visual imagination, a visual flair," says Boyle. "And a visual confidence and energy to investigate, first of all the actual events, and then to ask how the film could speak to audiences today and convey how important all these discoveries were and the context within which it happened."
Boyle loved the screenplay. "It was so wonderfully imaginative and played with the whole concept of time," she says. "I really loved that brave, energetic time travelling and how intelligently it was written, which brought out very clearly the effects of the inventions and the discoveries, both at the time and into the future. That was fascinating and important."
Boyle began her research by forgetting everything she knew already about the period. "Every project is investigating a different world, and unpicking a different world," she says. "Even if I've done the period before, I think it's best to un-know it."
That approach certainly helped when it came to designing Marie Curie's costumes. "We became very aware that she dressed in a way totally unique to herself," says Boyle. "There's no slavish following of fashion; she dresses very much as a unique individual, which is a joy to see and to interpret. She had a wonderful sense of style even though she didn't pay a lot of attention to clothes. There's a famous story about her wedding dress, where she said she just wanted a dress that she could wear in the lab. So we've got one scene where she's wearing her wedding dress in the lab! There is this lovely tension between her aesthetic side, which is very strong, versus her cerebral side and her lack of interest in clothes. But in a way, almost against her better judgement, she always looked incredible.
"She was a very attractive woman, very charismatic," continues Boyle. "I think had something to do with her focus and her energy. In the many photographs of her, she's always on a mission and mostly she's surrounded by men. What comes over in the photos is her incredible physical energy and powerful charisma."
When it came to drawing up her designs, Boyle divided the film into three historical eras: 1893-1906 which forms the main part of the story; 1906-1911/12 after Pierre's fatal accident; and finally 1914 to Marie's death in 1934. Marie's costumes in the first section comprise simple white shirts with Peter Pan collars and pin tucks and wide, full-length skirts. By the First World War, corsets were beginning to become less common and there was a much looser, more shapeless silhouette by 1920s and the 1930s.
The colour palette for all Marie's costumes range from greys, black and white to blues and greens, a visual link to Marie's great love for science in the costumes. "There are a lot of greys because I wanted that graphite metal feeling of a laboratory. All the colours are cool; there's nothing hot in there," says the designer.
Working with Rosamund Pike on the costumes was a joy. "Rosamund is a fantastic actor and was completely committed," says Boyle. "We were very keen to express the ageing process in her body and in how she dressed but in a very subtle way, because we needed to be very careful not to be too jarring or suddenly somebody ageing very quickly. Rosamund was completely on board with that. In the whole final section Rosamund is padded to thicken her waist. Rosamund was absolutely brilliant for the later scenes, making subtle but transformative changes to her comportment, how she starts to slow down her walk and bend her body in a different way."
For Pierre Curie, Boyle created a silhouette that was both true to history and also complemented Sam Riley's own physique. "There's a gentleness and spirituality about Pierre and I was inspired by that for his costumes," she says. "Pierre Curie was an incredibly beautiful man - and Sam resembles him quite closely physically - and dressed very simply but always wore very French, high buttoned, square cut jackets. They were very emblematic of him. So I echoed that with Sam's costumes."
The laboratory scenes demanded a different set of costumes. "In so many scenes in the lab, Marie and Pierre are physically filthy," says Boyle. "It was hugely important that we represent the real physical element of science of the period, so they're grinding stuff and boiling stuff and stirring and lifting and they have appropriate clothes.
That the film ended up looking so visually stunning on the screen is not just thanks to the beautiful locations but to the creative invention of the heads of department. Says Webster: "Production designer Michael Carlin really knew how to maximise the money and make the best out of shooting a period film in a variety of different places. The extraordinary MAV building, which we used for the hospital scenes, was like having your own film studio in the centre of town. Budapest is a very film friendly place to work. That we stretched our dollars as far as we could is very much down to the design team and our brilliant cameraman, Anthony Dod Mantle, who's extraordinarily resourceful. He lit it beautifully. Consolata Boyle's costumes are brilliantly designed. The source material is two dimensional, but Marjane and Anthony, with the help of Michael Carlin and Consolata Boyle, really made it come alive."
Rosamund Pike (Marie Curie) - Academy Award® and BAFTA nominee Rosamund Pike has earned international acclaim for both her stage and film roles. Perhaps best known for her lead role in the hugely successful Gone Girl, Rosamund has most recently been seen in Scott Cooper's Hostiles, José Padilha's Entebbe and Brad Anderson's Beirut.
Hostiles see's Rosamund play a widow, who accompanies Christian Bale's legendary Army captain who is escorting a Cheyenne chief and family through dangerous territory. In Entebbe, Rosamund plays a German revolutionary who hijacks an aeroplane and forces it to land in Entebbe, Uganda, in an effort to free Palestinians jailed in Israel. The film is based on the hijacking of Air France 139 in 1976. Rosamund plays a CIA field agent based in 1970s Beirut in political thriller Beirut, opposite Jon Hamm.
This year, Rosamund starred in The Human Voice, an adaptation from the play by Jean Cocteau. This short film follows an unflinching portrait of a woman's heartbreak over the course of a final telephone conversation between lovers.
Rosamund can currently be seen playing legendary Sunday Times war reporter Marie Colvin in A Private War. The film is based on Marie Brenner's Vanity Fair article, "Marie Colvin's Private War" and is directed by Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land, City of Ghosts).
Rosamund has just completed Andrea Di Stefano's Three Seconds, a crime thriller, alongside Joel Kinnaman and Clive Owen.
Rosamund will also soon star in State of the Union, a ten-part series directed by Stephen Frears and written by Nick Hornby. The comedy will see Rosamund star alongside Chris O'Dowd and will follow a story exploring the complexities of marriage with Hornby's inimitable honesty and humour. Most recently announced, Rosamund will feature in The Banker's Wife, an investigation into a mysterious plane crash which sends two women on parallel quests for the truth based on Cristina Alger's book.
Directed by Lesli Linka Glatter, the series is set for release next year. At Christmas, Rosamund joined the cast of Watershed Down as The Black Rabbit Of Inlé. This adaptation of Richard Adams' children's adventure novel was released in December on BBC and Netflix. Written by Tom Bidwell, Rosamund joined Olivia Coleman, John Boyega and Gemma Arteton. Rosamund's previous work includes A United Kingdom, opposite David Oyelowo, which tells the true story of Seretse Khama, a member of the Botswanan royal family.
Other recent performances include The Man with the Iron Heart, which tells the story of the Nazi officer who masterminded the "Final Solution" and who was assassinated by two resistance paratroopers in 1942. In 2014, Rosamund starred in David Fincher's Gone Girl, in which she played Amy Dunne, opposite Ben Affleck. Gone Girl was adapted for the screen by best-selling author, Gillian Flynn. Rosamund's performance earned widespread critical acclaim. Vanity Fair called her portrayal "a star-makingly good performance, spellbinding in its operatic mix of tones and temperatures." Rosamund was nominated for an Academy Award®, a SAG Award and a Golden Globe Award.
Also in 2014, Rosamund starred opposite Simon Pegg and Stellen Skarsgard in Hector and the Search for Happiness. She also appeared in Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin's part-improvised BBC comedy What We Did On Our Holiday, alongside Billy Connolly and David Tennant. In 2010, Rosamund starred in Barney's Version opposite Paul Giamatti. The film is a love story which poignantly captures the life of the politically incorrect, irascible and fearlessly blunt Barney Panofsky (Giamatti) and the women he has loved in his life.
Rosamund received critical acclaim for her work as Helen in Lone Scherfig's An Education opposite Peter Sarsgaard and Carey Mulligan. Received well at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, An Education continued to garner critical acclaim with Academy Award®, Golden Globe, BAFTA and Film Critics nominations, and a win for Best Foreign Film at the Independent Spirit Awards. Pike's previous film credits include A Long Way Down, Edgar Wright's The World's End, opposite Simon Pegg, Jack Reacher opposite Tom Cruise, and Wrath of the Titans, directed by Jonathan Liebesman. In 2010, Pike played Lisa Hopkins in the dramatic film Made in Dagenham with Sally Hawkins, Miranda Richardson and Bob Hoskins. She was later nominated for a 2011 London Critics' Circle Award for "British Actress in a Supporting Role" for her role in the film. Other projects have included Johnny English Reborn, The Big Year, Women in Love, The Libertine, Pride and Prejudice, Fracture, Fugitive Pices, Surrogates, Burning Palms and Die Another Day.
Aside from film, Rosamund has continued to return to theatre having starred in Gaslight, Patrick Hamilton's Victorian thriller, at the Old Vic Theatre, The Donmar Warehouse Production of Madame de Sade in The West End, opposite Judi Dench, and The Royal Court Theatre production of Hitchcock Blonde directed by Terry Johnson. Rosamund began 2010 by playing the title role in Hedda Gabler.
Sam Riley (Pierre Curie) Sam made his first screen appearance playing Joy Division's Ian Curtis in Anton Corbijn's film Control. His extraordinary performance earned him many awards, including Best Actor at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, the Newcomer Award at the British Independent Film Awards, the British Breakthrough Award at the London Film Critics' Circle Awards 2008 and a BAFTA Orange Rising Star 2008 nomination. The film won the Directors' Fortnight Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007. More recently, at the beginning of this year Sam filmed Ben Wheatley's feature Happy New Year, Colin Burstead alongside Charles Dance which premiered at the London Film Festival in 2018. He has recently reprised his role of Diaval opposite Angelina Jolie in Disney's Maleficent sequel.
Last year saw Sam in the lead role of the BBC1 mini-series SS-GB directed by Philipp Kadelbach and in Ben Wheatley's action thriller Free Fire alongside Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer and Brie Larson. Other credits include starring as 'Mr. Darcy' in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies directed by Burr Steers, Suite Francaise directed by Saul Dibb, Brighton Rock directed by Rowan Joffe and On the Road directed by Walter Salles.
Aneurin Barnard (Paul Langevin) Olivier Award winning actor Aneurin Barnard is one of the industry's most promising young actors. Having been involved in several critically acclaimed film, television and theatre productions since the start of his diverse career, Aneurin continues to establish himself as an international talent to watch.
Later this year, Aneurin will be seen in Armando Iannucci's The Personal History of David Copperfield. Aneurin will also appear in Marjane Satrapi's biopic drama Radioactive, as well as John Crowley's feature The Goldfinch adapted from Donna Tart's hugely successful book.
Aneurin's most recent credits include Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, the BBC's production War and Peace with Paul Dano and the BBC Three Mini-series Thirteen opposite Jodie Comer. In August 2015, Aneurin starred in the BBC drama The Scandalous Lady W. opposite Natalie Dormer. Prior to this, Aneurin was seen in ITV drama Cilla, starring opposite Sheridan Smith. In 2014, Aneurin appeared The Truth About Emanuel with Jessica Biel and starred in Sky1's drama Moonfleet. In July 2013, Aneurin starred in Citadel, which was nominated for a BAFTA Scotland Award for Best Film and won the Audience Award at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival. In March 2012, Aneurin played David Bailey starring opposite Karen Gillan and Helen McCrory in the BBC Film We'll Take Manhattan.
Aneurin first caught the industry's attention in the Tony Award-winning Musical Spring Awakening, winning the Olivier Award for 'Best Actor in a Musical' in 2010. It was his first job straight out of drama school. He was selected as a 'Star of Tomorrow' by Screen International in 2009. Aneurin is currently filming the Nat Geo drama Barkskins with David Thewlis and Marcia Gay Harden.
Anya Taylor-Joy (Irene Curie) 'One of the most interesting and commanding actresses of a generation', Anya Taylor-Joy won the Gotham Award for 'Breakthrough Actor' as well as the Chopard trophy for 'Female Revelation' at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Rising Star Award at the BAFTA Awards for her breakthrough role in A24's The Witch, directed by Robert Eggers (Collider).
In 2019, Taylor-Joy reprised her role of 'Casey Cooke' in Glass, following on from M.Night Shyalaman's box office and breakout hit Split. In this third and final installment in his Unbreakable series, 18 years in the making, Anya starred with Samuel L Jackson, Bruce Willis, James McAvoy and Sarah Paulson. She will follow that with the lead role of teen sorceress 'Magik' in 20th Century Fox's X-Men: The New Mutants, director Josh Boone's new take on the much-loved franchise.
Anya recently took on the leading role of 'Nella Oortman' in the PBS adaptation of Jessie Burton's international, best-selling novel "The Miniaturist". The series aired in the prime Boxing Day slot on the BBC in 2017 to universal acclaim. Anya was highlighted for her 'captivating' (The Guardian) and 'hugely impressive performance' (Metro) where she 'controls the camera's gaze masterfully' (The Independent).
Most recently Anya starred in psychological thriller Thoroughbreds and was singled out by Collider who praised that "the camera loves Taylor-Joy and whatever "that thing" is that makes a star, she's got it in spades".
Her further credits include the titular character in Morgan, 'confirming the promise shown in The Witch' (Screen Daily) and Netflix's Barry from Black Bear Pictures (The Imitation Game) that premiered to rave reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival with Anya singled out as a 'true find' (Variety).
Simon Russell Beale (Gabriel Lippmann) Simon Russell Beale was educated at St Pauls Cathedral Choir School and Clifton College in Bristol. After graduating with a first in English at Cambridge University he began training as an opera singer before he turned to acting. He started his theatrical career at The Royal Court and went on to the Royal Shakespeare Company for 8 years. Since then, he has spent 20 years at The National Theatre. Not only has Russell Beale performed all over the world, he has also appeared in award winning TV and film. In 2003 he was appointed a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours for his services to the Arts.
Simon is currently performing in Joe Hill-Gibbins' production of Richard II at the Almeida Theatre.