Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie

Alan Alda has dramatized Marie Curie's affair with her married friend, the French physicist Paul Langevin, which developed a few years after the death of her husband Pierre.

Geffen Playhouse

Los Angeles

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There’s a side of Marie Curie’s life “that’s rarely mentioned in textbooks,” said Tanner Stransky in Entertainment Weekly. It’s well known that Curie was deeply in love with Pierre Curie as the couple worked to isolate radium, which they had discovered in 1898. Yet Alan Alda’s new drama highlights another, “more fascinating” chapter of Marie’s life, which occurred a few years after Pierre’s tragic 1906 death. Around 1910, she “took up with the French physicist Paul Langevin,” a married friend, and suffered a “deluge of bad press” as a result. Under Daniel Sullivan’s skillful direction, Breaking Bad star Anna Gunn creates “an enrapturing portrait of Marie as a by-the-books stickler” who, despite her brilliance, was prone to judgmental lapses outside the laboratory.

If only Alda’s script were as engaging, said Charles McNulty in the Los Angeles Times. There’s no doubting the earnestness of the longtime host of PBS’s Scientific American Frontiers. It’s even possible, given American students’ lackluster performance in the sciences, that Alda hoped to inspire every young audience member to “don a white coat, raise a test tube, and fire up a Bunsen burner.” The problem is, he “hasn’t so much dramatized his material as assembled watershed moments” in Curie’s life and career. Gunn’s “striking performance” partially compensates for this: When Curie grows weak from radiation poisoning, the effect is operatic. Mostly, though, Radiance plays out like a good doctor’s visit: It’s “informative, efficient, reliable—and when it’s over, you’re glad.”

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