April 21, 2017

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Einstein’s story is worth telling and Genius is a telling worthy of the man at its heart.


Lochley Shaddock
Year: 2017
Rating: NA
Director: Ron Howard

Geoffrey Rush, Johnny Flynn, Nicholas Rowe

Distributor: National Geographic Channel
Released: April 24, 2017
Running Time: 43 minutes x 10 episodes
Worth: $18.00

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Einstein’s story is worth telling and Genius is a telling worthy of the man at its heart.

When people think of Albert Einstein, specific expressions and images come to mind: E=MC² and a wavy-haired Einstein sticking his tongue out, to name a couple. But, there is much more to this man than meets the eye. One of his wives (he had more than one) was his second cousin. In his youth, he was brash and rebellious. A letter he wrote was the catalyst for the creation of the atomic bomb.

This is the fertile territory where National Geographic’s 10-part series Genius delves. Jumping between pivotal moments in his life, the show asks the question: who was the real man behind the legend of Albert Einstein? And in the first episode, we’re teased a glimpse of his greatest achievements and failures; as a scientist and as a man.

This is National Geographic’s first foray into scripted television drama, and it has enlisted a top tier cast and crew to bring it to life. Behind the scenes are Academy Award winners Ron Howard (Apollo 13) and Brian Grazer (American Gangster) executive-producing the series, with Howard also directing (in his television debut) the pilot. Despite some recent critical and commercial misfires such as Inferno and In the Heart of the Sea, Howard puts his virtuosity on display in the pilot, evoking the tone and style of his brilliant Best Picture winner A Beautiful Mind – establishing the benchmark for the rest of the season. The production value of the series is equally spectacular as the first episode alone moves between Berlin, Zurich, Milan and more, with the world appearing as visceral and lived in as we can assume it would have been in 1890s Italy or 1930s Germany. However, it is perhaps those in front of the camera that are the standouts of the first episode.

As already detailed, the series follows Einstein as an eccentric and elderly scientist/celebrity (played by Geoffrey Rush) and as a young dreamer (played by Johnny Flynn), jumping through space and time as Einstein’s ideas once did. The pilot episode specifically deals with Einstein’s persecution as a Jew in Germany during the rise of the Nazi Party and his attempts to garner an education in Zurich to legitimise his place in the world of physics. It balances the mathematical history and personal turmoil masterfully, never letting one moment drag out for too long. For those who thought they were getting a by-the-numbers history of Einstein’s life, you’ve tuned in to the wrong show. There is potential, however, that since the show draws on the personal and political dramas of Einstein’s life, his greatest achievements, scientific ones, could be overshadowed in future episodes.

The series brings various historical figures associated with Einstein – including Marie and Pierre Curie, Carl Jung, and J. Edgar Hoover – to life with a fabulous ensemble cast of familiar faces from film and television.

Genius is not a rose-tinted depiction of the titan of the twentieth century. Instead, the series emphasises his flaws and delves into the complexities and contradictions of the man, rendering the entire series all the more intriguing.

Einstein’s story is worth telling and Genius is a telling worthy of the man at its heart.

Lochley Shaddock is a novelist, essayist, film critic and screenwriter/director


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