Radioactive (2019)


This biopic premiered at film festivals last year and was slated for a wide release in 2020 but that was interrupted due to the pandemic. Well, now, Radioactive (2019) is available for streaming on Amazon Prime, where it was bound to end up since the company is one of the producers. However it arrived, I’m glad we finally have a decent film about Marie Curie, because I couldn’t make it through the only previous attempt — 1943’s Madame Curie starring Greer Garson.

1904 - Pierre and Marie Curie, via Wikimedia Commons

1904 – Pierre and Marie Curie, via Wikimedia Commons

Give Rosamond Pike all the credit for a compelling performance spanning Marie Skłodowska Curie’s life from the 1890s through her death in 1934, complete with frizzy hair and aging makeup. This is not a glamorous role, and Curie is a complicated, prickly character, which makes her enjoyable to watch. Without a lot of fancy costumes or exotic settings, this is mostly a character study of a woman driven by ideas and trying not to be distracted by the rest of the world. She does forge a partnership with Pierre Curie, both in love and in scholarship, but there’s always a little tension about who is pursuing whose scientific ideas, who does the work, and who gets the credit.

Radioactive (2020)

For as much as both the director and Rosamund Pike told the press this isn’t a standard biopic, it really is. Pike said, “I have no interest in doing a conventional biopic because in a way, lives, however interesting, don’t always lend themselves to drama.” But this film is structured like any biographical movie to highlight only the most dramatic elements of Marie Curie’s life, plus inventing a key moment.

While the film does what you expect it to do, there are also some clever little real things included that you might not expect, like the Loie Fuller dancing, items from the radium fad of the early 20th century, and quotes from Marie Curie taken from her letters and family. The film also jumps around in time with flashbacks in Marie Curie’s life and then flash-forwards in history that relate to uses of radioactivity. Those may not be to everyone’s taste, but I rather liked them and found they add context to the scientific discoveries being reenacted.


Costumes in Radioactive (2019)

While costumes aren’t the focus of this movie, it does have a top-notch designer in multiple Oscar-nominee Consolata Boyle. Since the story spans several decades, plus jumps around in time, there are plenty of historical costumes in the film, just nothing too extreme. In fact, the look of the film is strongly influenced by the subject matter, and the art direction combines with the costuming to create a wash of green and blue tones in most every scene.

Costume designer Boyle told Variety about her limited color palette for Marie Curie’s costumes:

“I wanted to keep it as simple as possible. The strongest colors were the grays and dark overalls she wore for her lab work. [Blue] was the key color because I wanted to associate it with the lapis stone and the scientific elements of blue. That was her symbolic color.”

I’m guessing what may appear black on screen is often dark grey or the blue that Boyle is talking about. Also, she used small prints and patterns that give visual texture to otherwise plain, untrimmed outfits.

Radioactive (2020)

Marie wears this grey coat when Pierre “surprises” her with their new lab setup. The coat has a nice period edge detail.

Radioactive (2020)

You can just barely see the check pattern in this dark dress.

Radioactive (2020)

And this black dress has tiny spots to give it a little life.

This is visually a very dark movie, the only highlights being dots of radioactive green and occasional swaths of white. Such as the off-white linen blouse Marie wears when she and Pierre first meet is inspired by a photo of her as a girl, according to Boyle.

Radioactive (2020)

At a dinner early in the film, Marie wears another white blouse that’s accented with black embroidery, perhaps reminiscent of the Polish heritage she was always proud of, even though she was harassed due to.

Radioactive (2020)

The director Marjane Satrapi is a painter and visual artist as well and wanted a specific look for the film. She admitted that she wanted this film to be beautiful, saying: “I’m an aesthete and I come from a painting background. I can’t stand ugliness. I’m attracted by beauty.” I’d say she succeeded as Radioactive has an elegant visual style and even the laboratory scenes are lit and shot beautifully.

Radioactive (2020)

Cute behind-the-scenes photo posted on Twitter showing Rosamund Pike with Sam Riley (who plays Pierre) and I’m not sure which of the actresses who play their young daughters, Irène and Ève. Good view of prints and materials used in the costumes.


Have you watched Radioactive? Do you think it’s a conventional biopic or not?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

13 Responses

  1. Roxana

    I read Eve Curies biography of her mother. The casual way those early pioneers handled radioactive materials will curl your hair.

  2. Susan Pola Staples

    I was cringing everytime they handled radium. Unsafe. And I enjoyed the film.

    • Roxana

      I can picture viewers crying ‘dont touch that!’ at the screen.

      • MoHub

        They used to use radium to make glow-in-the-dark watch faces, and the women who were employed to paint the faces would lick the paintbrushes to keep them moist. Most of them developed cancer from that practice.

        • The Scrivener

          Nothing Sacred is a great contemporary screwball comedy about the radium girls. Carole Lombard plays a small-town girl who pretends to be dying of radium poisoning in order to garner sympathy and go on a “last great adventure.” Hijinks ensue.

    • The Scrivener

      About a year ago, I went to Marie Curie’s lab (now a museum) in Paris. There’s an interesting exhibit on the radium craze of the 1920s and 30s. You can also see her actual lab space; it’s roped off like a standard historical museum, but literally everything in that room is still buzzing with radioactivity. I would have expected at least lead-plated glass or something! Snapped a few photos on my phone and scurried on out of there.

      • Susan Pola Staples

        Hopefully you and your photos made it out safely. You’re braver than I.

  3. Nzie

    I saw it came available on Amazon and definitely want to watch it, so I’m glad you liked it, Trystan. I don’t know much about her beyond the basics so I hope the invented key point isn’t too out there.

  4. Charity

    I liked it all right, but personally would have preferred it without the flash-forwards in time — they were jarring and jilted me out of the film even if they were showing the consequences of their discoveries. An end card stating “what this led to” would have worked just as well, IMO. But… just a personal preference. I like to feel immersed.

  5. Lily Lotus Rose

    No, I haven’t seen this one yet, but I want to. Rosamund Pike is underrated as an actress, and I was intrigued by her being cast in this film. That, and you, the actual Marie Curie.

  6. Saraquill

    I didn’t realize Marjane Satrapi directed this. I’m a fan of her Persepolis books, though not so much her later pieces.

    …Can we please please have more women scientist biopics?