Is the new movie about Marie Curie worth watching?

By Brian Casey, AuntMinnie.com staff writer

July 30, 2020 -- On July 24, a new movie called "Radioactive" debuted about the life of Marie Curie. The film chronicles the remarkable life of Curie, who performed pioneering research into radioactivity, work for which she won two Nobel Prizes. But is "Radioactive" actually worth watching?

Marie Curie
Marie Curie.

The launch of "Radioactive" on Amazon Prime comes amid increasing awareness of the role of women and ethnic minorities in science and medicine, and scrutiny of past practices that have hidden or denigrated their contributions. In particular, many professionals in the fields of radiology and nuclear medicine were looking forward to a popular vehicle that would bring greater awareness to one of the titans whose work paved the way for disciplines like nuclear medicine and radiation therapy.

Unfortunately, "Radioactive" seems to disappoint. Billed as a "romance/drama," "Radioactive" is already drawing skeptical reviews, with criticism ranging from the narrative pace of the story to its historical accuracy. Radiologist Dr. Geraldine McGinty, president of the American College of Radiology (ACR), gave the movie a try and offered her review in a July 27 editorial in Clinical Imaging.

McGinty reflected on how Marie Curie's story can be seen against our current age, in which the COVID-19 pandemic exposes the challenges that female scientists face as they try to balance personal and professional responsibilities.

She described how Marie Curie's marriage to her husband Pierre was described as an "exchange of energy," and how his support could be seen as an early example of the #HeforShe movement -- in which male researchers offer support and encouragement to their female colleagues.

Pierre Curie initially declined the Nobel Prize that was to be given to him and Henri Becquerel in 1903 for their research into radiation. The prize was subsequently given to Becquerel and the Curies jointly -- making Marie the first woman to receive the honor.

But "Radioactive" falls short of this inspirational story, instead serving up a narrative in which Marie Curie is portrayed as "an overemotional nag ranting at her husband for attending the Nobel ceremony without her," McGinty wrote. She also notes that in real life, both Curies attended the ceremony, and Pierre devoted much of his speech to praising his wife's contributions.

McGinty also reserves criticism for the way science is portrayed in "Radioactive," in particular how the Marie Curie character in the film describes radioactivity-- like "crushing a grape and turning it into wine." This not only is nonsensical but "promotes scientific illiteracy," McGinty believes.

The problems with the movie aren't just academic. McGinty notes that the film's producer, Amazon Studios, is not only marketing "Radioactive" as the "true story" of Marie Curie but also promoting the movie to be shown in schools as educational content.

McGinty's critique seems to echo less-than-enthusiastic reviews of "Radioactive" in the popular media, with the movie garnering just a 65% audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, 6.1/10 on IMDb.com, and 56% on Metacritic.

In the end, "Radioactive" falls short as an accurate portrayal of the life of a remarkable woman and researcher, offering "regressive" storytelling. As such, it should not be used for educational purposes, McGinty believes.

"The movie's exploration of both the positive and negative effects of the discoveries that she made is worthwhile, but her legacy is too important for her story to be told in this sloppy fashion," she concludes.


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