The Theory of Everything: The Web Uncovers the True Love Story

Philip Bates 09-02-2015

You’ve seen The Theory of Everything, and want to know what’s real and what’s fiction. Or maybe, want to catch it again before a Valentine’s Day dinner. These articles from across the Internet will take you behind the scenes with the 2015 Oscar-nominated movie.


The Theory of Everything is a story about love and its loss, but most of all, it’s a tale of relationships — between people, between one man and physics.

Stephen Hawking is a well-recognised genius reportedly with an IQ of 160 (who may or may not be on Twitter Tweeting Knowledge To The Masses: 8 Popular Scientists On Twitter When thinking about scientists you wouldn't necessarily think of Twitter as being their primary means of communicating with the wider world. And that assumption would be somewhat correct. However, there are a healthy number of... Read More ). Jane Wilde is an author and lecturer who wrote Travelling to Infinity. And this memoir inspired the hit film, The Theory of Everything.

Hawking called it “broadly true” – so what exactly did happen in real life? We piece the true story together with various sources from the web.

Meeting and Marriage

Jane Wilde met Stephen Hawking at a students’ New Year’s Party in 1963. In his memoir, A Brief History, he recalls that, in an interview at Oxford, they asked what his future plans were:

“I replied that I wanted to do research. If they gave me a first, I told them, I would go to Cambridge. If I only got a second, I would stay in Oxford. They gave me a first.”

In The Theory of Everything, Hawking is accompanied around University by Brian, played by Harry Lloyd (Game of Thrones; Robin Hood), but he is, in fact, a fictional conglomerate of real friends. Stephen became a popular, respected student in his third year at Oxford, during which time he briefly became a coxswain at the Boat Club.


Jane was a friend of Stephen’s sister, and they exchanged details – though Jane doubted that she’d hear from him again. She was subsequently invited to his 21st Birthday party, but the two only started seeing one another after a chance encounter on a train. Between meeting and dating, Stephen was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a motor neuron disease and was told he’d have only two years to live.

Jane heard about this second-hand through a friend, but it didn’t stop the pair from marrying in July 1965. Upon the release of Hawking, the 2004 TV movie starring Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular scientist, Jane told Tim Adams,

“We had this very strong sense at the time that our generation lived anyway under this most awful nuclear cloud – that with a four-minute warning the world itself could likely end. That made us feel above all that we had to do our bit, that we had to follow an idealistic course in life. That may seem naive now, but that was exactly the spirit in which Stephen and I set out in the Sixties – to make the most of whatever gifts were given us.”

One thing that helped Jane through difficult times (and, in her own words, gave her life purpose) was religion; as a dedicated Christian, her beliefs were conflicted against Stephen’s strong atheism. In particular, she remembers a trip to Israel in the late 1980s, during which Stephen announced that there was no room for God in his universe. However, they didn’t try to convert each other.

Felicity Jones, who plays Jane in The Theory of Everything and has previously appeared in Doctor Who, Cemetery Junction, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, was fascinated by Jane’s elegance, her almost balletic movements, and both she and Eddie Redmayne viewed their scenes together as a dance.


Felicity Jones

This synchronicity was a key part of understanding their relationship, and she told The Independent, “We were keen to show that both Stephen and Jane are very passionate people and had a huge amount of intensity in their relationship.”

The couple raised three children together, Robert, Lucy, and Tim, and Jane admits to depending on Robert when he was only 10. Stephen didn’t want outside help from nurses, so relied on his family to help him. He particularly found it tough when needing a wheelchair.

A Brief History

In 1988, Stephen released his most-popular book, A Brief History of Time. The 256-page work was an explanation of the core principles and ideas behind cosmology to “amateurs”, studying time-space theories on the creation of the universe, the Uncertainty Principle, light cones, and the end of the universe [Broken URL Removed]. The entire book is available for free online as a PDF.


A Brief History of Time

He is perhaps best-known for his writings on black holes (the focus of one of his pieces in his second book, Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays – which can also be read online [No Longer Available]), and Hawking Radiation, that is the notion of black holes releasing heat, which seems likely even if it’s not been observed yet. Further research by Hawking has even suggested the seemingly-impossible: that escaping a black hole is possible!

Stephen also expressed concern over CERN’s project to find the Higgs-Boson, referred to as the “God Particle” – that catastrophic damage “could happen at any time and we wouldn’t see it coming” – but only if the particle accelerator were larger than the Earth.

For those interested in CERN, The European Organization for Nuclear Research, Google Earth now offers a panoramic tour of the organisation’s premise Panoramic Virtual Tour Of CERN Comes To Google Street View If you ever wanted to visit and see the Large Hadron Collider, now you can. Thanks to Google Street View you can take a panoramic virtual tour of the CERN site. Read More .


A Brief History of Time may be considered an exemplary scientific work, but it’s considered to be “the most unread book of all time.”

Jane still insists she “firmly believed in Stephen and his brilliance.” She describes him as:

“… phenomenal because he has such perseverance and determination. In the very early days, when it began to be difficult to write things down, he had to memorise everything. Somebody said his work was like composing a Mozart symphony in your head.”

Eddie Redmayne, who plays Stephen in The Theory of Everything says he gave up on science when he was younger, so one of the biggest challenges was learning physics. He confesses, “I had some fantastic help in the form of one of Stephen’s old students who is now a professor in London.”

Hawking also recently joined Bill Gates in voicing concerns Bill Gates is Worried About AI, Follow Super Bowl XLIX on Facebook [Tech News Digest] Bill Gates is scared of robots, Facebook goes all-in for Super Bowl XLIX, Spotify comes to PlayStation, GoPro goes slow-mo, Louis CK loves the Internet, and a mind-blowing Unreal Engine 4 demo. Read More about Artificial Intelligence – and here’s why Here's Why Scientists Think You Should be Worried about Artificial Intelligence Do you think artificial intelligence is dangerous? Does AI may pose a serious risk to the human race. These are some reasons why you may want to be concerned. Read More .

New Love and Divorce

Until this success, however, Jane admits that their family struggled financially, and both parties struggled with carers coming in. She was also growing frustrated by the sycophantic attitude of others towards her husband.

It also affected their children. Lucy Hawking remembers being horrified by “the stares of strangers as Prof Hawking’s limp body was wheeled through the streets,” by their dependence on nurses, and by the media attention.

This led Jane to start an affair with Lucy’s piano teacher, choirmaster Jonathan Hellyer Jones. Stephen, too, drifted to another: Elaine Mason, one of his nurses. By 1990, he had left Jane, and the pair divorced in 1995. Within a year, Stephen had married Mason, while Jane had married Jones.

Errol Morris, who made a documentary on A Brief History of Time, remembers that “the fact that Hawking and his wife had separated was upsetting to many people, independent of any kind of tabloid culture. But yes, I think many people were worried that the film was going to be exploitative in some way, and I could not convince them otherwise.”

This relationship didn’t last for Stephen, after claims that Mason was abusing him – claims Hawking has always denied – though Jane remains married to Jonathan.

Tensions in the family were high while Hawking was with Mason, but since the latter’s departure, they have all grown closer together. Jane frequently speaks to Stephen and he and Lucy have co-authored a series of children’s books, promoted through his official website. If anything, Stephen and Jane’s separation seems to have drawn them closer together.

What They Thought When They Saw the Film

Research into their lives had been extensive. Felicity Jones had met with Jane on many occasions, and Jane recalled to the Radio Times the first time she saw The Theory of Everything: “When I saw Felicity Jones playing me, a frisson ran down my spine. To my amazement, I found that she seemed to have stolen the essence of me, and reproduced my mannerisms and speech patterns; it was like having a twin or a double.”

Stephen, too, was happy with the film; a nurse reportedly was seen wiping a tear from his eye after the private screening, and he gave director, James Marsh permission to use audio from his own voice synthesiser.

However, while real-life counterparts seemed pleased with the final cut, a few critics were annoyed by the Hollywood take on events. After reading her book, The Guardian argues that it did a disservice to Jane. Michelle Dean says, “While obviously no film could precisely replicate the inside experience of a marriage, it feels like the film-makers didn’t even try. They simply made up another.”

It may be nominated for many awards, but what did you think of The Theory of Everything? Have you read Travelling to Infinity? Do you think it has been adapted well?

Image Credit: “Felicity Jones TIFF 2011” – Aaron Vincent Elkaim (CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Explore more about: Geeky Science, Movie Review.

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  1. ed
    February 9, 2015 at 11:28 pm

    I saw the movie and thought it was much better than The Imitation Game. Both movies were good though.

  2. Allan
    February 9, 2015 at 7:38 pm

    Haven't seen this, but Benedict Cumberbatch played Prof Hawking in a BBC film called "Hawking" and was fantastic in the role.

  3. dragonmouth
    February 9, 2015 at 7:13 pm

    "a few critics were annoyed by the Hollywood take on events"
    If Stephen and Jane were happy with the movie, who the f**k are the critics to raise objections???!!!