THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY (UK/12A/108mins)
Directed by Matt Brown. Starring Jeremy Irons, Dev Patel, Toby Jones, Jeremy Northam, Stephen Fry.
THE PLOT: During World War I, Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel) travels from Madras in India to Trinity College Cambridge to publish a paper on his findings in mathematics, under the supervision of G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons). While there, Ramanujan soon realises that he is going to be put through his paces and made to prove his findings before anything is published. At the same time, Ramunujan deals with discrimination and racism, all while trying to keep his spirits and health up, and his relationship with his wife in India alive.
THE VERDICT: Based on a true story, ‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’ is a charming and touching film with strong performances at its heart, but is also a film that struggles with feeling disjointed and unfocused. Dev Patel carries the film as Ramanujan, and does well with making the character earnest and enthusiastic. It is with Patel that the story lives and dies, so his enthusiasm in the early part of the film makes us root for him, and when this enthusiasm is stripped away the audience begins to root for this underdog, who also happens to be a fish out of water. Jeremy Irons is strong as the unfriendly but caring G.H. Hardy, and it is mostly in the clash between Patel and Irons that the drama of the film is created. The rest of the cast features Toby Jones, Jeremy Northam, Stephen Fry and Devika Bhise.
Matt Brown’s screenplay, based on the biography of Srinivasa Ramanujan by Robert Kanigel, tries its best to marry the events of the world, the events of Trinity College Cambridge and the culture shock and borderline rejection that Ramanujan feels throughout the film, with varying degrees of success. The film is at its strongest in the conversations between Hardy and Ramanujan, but it is when the screenplay tries to bring in the concerns of Ramanujan’s family back in India, and show the passage of time that it begins to feel episodic and disjointed as it jumps through time seemingly at will. A stronger focus would have meant the film was either about the clash of cultures or the struggle of mathematics at the time, but as it stands, the screenplay tries to combine both and ends up with something that is not quite either.
As director, Matt Brown takes to his first project since ‘Ropewalk’ in 2000 with gusto, but amps up the emotional saccharine sweetness a little too high, meaning that the actual struggle that Ramanujan would have gone through is lost in a sweet fog. As well as this, the film is oddly paced, with the focus shifting from person to person and issue to issue so often that the core heart of the film gets overshadowed from time to time, and the audience forgets that this is a film that is, above all, about a man trying to make his voice heard.
In all, Jeremy Irons, Dev Patel and Toby Jones shine in ‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’, but this earnest and heart warming story becomes muddled with too many storylines, odd pacing and not enough focus on the mathematics. Never thought I would get to write that in a review… Or ever.
RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

The Man Who Knew Infinity
Review by Brogen Hayes
3.5Earnest & warm
  • filmbuff2011

    The Man Who Knew Infinity relates the true story of a great meeting of minds – and the forming of a firm friendship between two men from very different countries and backgrounds.

    Madras, India, 1914. Ramanujan (Dev Patel) is a young Indian man who has numbers whizzing around constantly in his head. He is excellent at mathematical theories. In order to make his mark, he needs his proofs to be accepted by the mathematical community and to be published. An opportunity arises to embark on a journey to England and a residence at Cambridge University, already known for its mathematical geniuses like Isaac Newton. Temporarily leaving behind his family and his wife Janaki (Devika Bhise), Ramanujan finds himself in awe and wonder at the scale and majesty of Cambridge. It’s here that he meets professor G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons), who works with him on his theories. Also supporting him is Professor Littlewood (Toby Jones), but other professors are less welcoming and some of them are even condescending and racist. Ramanujan pushes at the conventions of accepted mathematical standards without any need for proofs. In his mind, he is simply right and that is all. Hardy finds this difficult to accept at first, but slowly comes around to the idea that Ramanujan is an undiscovered genius waiting for his moment in the limelight…

    Based on the biography by Robert Kanigel, The Man Who Knew Infinity sounds like a rather dry, scholarly film about maths, colonialism, cultural differences and the class system a century ago. They’re all themes that play out through the course of the film, but Matt Brown’s second feature has grander ambitions. For this is a rather touching story about the unlikely friendship between Ramanujan and Hardy. They are very different men, but their minds are united when it comes to mathematical theories. This reviewer isn’t mathematically-minded, so felt a bit sceptical as to what the film’s intentions were. However, the human element is what keeps the story grounded during those mathematical flights of fancy as Ramanujan scribbles away on a blackboard.

    Patel gives a very earnest and honest performance as a genius who doesn’t know he’s a genius. Irons, in a gruff but concentrated performance, portrays Hardy as a mild eccentric (he always brings an umbrella outdoors based on mathematical certainty of rain). The chemistry between them is palpable from the beginning. Making good use of his Cambridge locations, Brown creates an evocative sense of time and place. If there’s a misstep, it’s in trying to gel the stories of England and India together over the course of a few years. This comes about mostly at the end, which is a bit abrupt and is surprisingly under-played to little dramatic effect. Still, the coda just before the end credits salvages things and we find out the relevance of Ramanujan’s theories: today his mathematical theories are key to discovering the mysteries of black holes. Impressive. Worth seeking out if you’re looking for something a bit different. ***