I first heard of Stuart: A Life Backwards when I saw the trailer for the movie on TV. It looked dramatic, intense and brilliant - especially thanks to the acting of Tom Hardy, from what I could tell - so I was definitely intrigued. Then I kind of forgot about it, until I came across the book at the library and knew I had to read it. It quickly became one of my favourite books of the year, and after reading it I knew I had to watch the movie asap.
I finally got my hands on it (ahem, it's on YouTube) and I have to say my first impression from the ad was correct - it's dramatic, intense and brilliant. Tom Hardy is an AMAZING Stuart. He embodies the character in a literal, physical way; changing his posture, body language, facial expressions and even his voice. He captures Stuart's humour and heart, but doesn't shy away from his incredibly dark side. Hardy's performance is so raw, gritty and utterly heart-wrenching that it's difficult to watch at times, but you can't look away all the same. He's completely compelling.
Also brilliant is Benedict Cumberbatch as Stuart's biographer, Alexander. He's spot-on as the middle class intellectual, perfectly delivering his wry observations and air of nervous affection around his subject. It's the odd couple that Alexander and Stuart form that is placed at the centre of the movie, and amongst a helluva lot of horrible back story, it's a joy to watch. Hardy and Cumberbatch have a wonderful chemistry.
The style of the film perfectly captures and conveys the essence of the novel. Aside from the amazing performances, the timing and structure are well done, interspersing harrowing flashbacks with more heartwarming scenes at just the right intervals. The soundtrack is utilised to wonderful effect; one of my favourite scenes is when Stuart and Alexander bond over singing along (quite badly) to Babybird's 'Because You're Gorgeous' in the car (who can resist a car singalong?!). Animation is also used a few times to communicate Alexander's hilarious imaginings (like his worry that Stuart will steal everything the first time he's in his flat), and it ties in nicely with the illustrations in the novel.
Obviously things had to be left out and altered to adapt the story to fit the one-and-a-half-hour movie format, but the film is remarkably faithful to the spirit of the novel. The only thing I really missed was the scene from Stuart's stay in the country with Alexander's friends; what appears at first to be one of Stuart's fits actually turns out to be him saving the place from some robbers. It's an effective scene in the book, playing with the readers' assumptions and shining a new light on Stuart, but I can understand that it would have been cut from the movie for simplicity and time. As it is, all the key events and elements are in there, touching on all the important emotions; in the space of an hour and a half, you'll laugh, get mad, get sad, probably cry and definitely feel incredibly ill. Stuart was a remarkable man who led a difficult and short life; it's heartening that, though he didn't live to see it, his story will continue to touch many, thanks to his friend Alexander's book - and this movie.
This interview with Hardy and Cumberbatch made me smile. Watch it after seeing footage from the movie to realise just how much Hardy transformed himself for the role. Brilliant.