Film review: The Man Who Knew Infinity – thrilling biopic of Indian maths genius
Dev Patel, who shot to fame in Slumdog Millionaire, plays Srinivasa Ramanujan, a self-taught mathematician who enters Cambridge University on the eve of the first world war
Any film which seeks to redress maths’ stuffy image is welcome. This biopic about 20th-century mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan makes the subject seem exciting and necessary, and sets it in a wide human context to appeal to those who have difficulty adding up their shopping bills. A good balance between scholarly pursuits and daily life make for a pleasantly entertaining, intelligent watch.
Ramanujan (played by Dev Patel), an Indian, was born with a natural instinct for numbers which led to him being invited to Cambridge University to work with mathematician G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons). The movie deals with the self-taught mathematician’s work, his personal life (which departs from the facts), and the racism he faced in England while solving problems his peers thought impossible. Wider issues, like the effect of the first world war on academia, add extra interest.
Although the film is a bit too mellow, and also follows the recent fashion for teary melodrama, any problems are transcended by a great performance by Irons, and a thoughtful one by Patel. The maths discoveries are too complex to be distilled down into movie sound bites, but they are at least namechecked, and we see him feverishly working out a lot of them.
Unusually for a biopic of this kind, writer-director Matthew Brown shows a deep interest in exploring scientific process. That is, even if your end results are revolutionary, you have to show how you worked them out for them to be of any use.
The Man Who Knew Infinity opens on June 23
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