Plot: Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) battle against racism, sexism, and politics to serve a vital role in putting an American astronaut into orbit in the early years of the global space race.
I’ll be honest with you all, I am not a fan of mathematics. In school, I mostly struggled with the subject and I just about scrapped a pass at GCSE level (high school level for US readers). Once I managed that, I swore I was done with Mathematics. Technological advances mean I have had to rely on my mental arithmetic skills less and less, thankfully, but I still carry the kind of hatred in my heart for maths, that will see either it kill me or me killing it once and for all in a fit of violent rage. As a result of all this, I’ve always found myself drifting away from any forms of entertainment that feature mathematics, so seeing the trailer for ‘Hidden Figures‘ last year, I felt that familiar glaze of disinterest settling over me. However, getting the chance to see this movie earlier in the week, I can categorically state that if you are anything like me, you are going to be pleasantly surprised by just how entertaining this movie is.
‘Hidden Figures’ is a delightful film on many levels. Despite tackling some very heavy and significant social issues, it is never bogged down by them, thanks largely to a really well written script and some wonderful, dynamic performances from the lead actors. Taraji P. Henson is brilliant as the incredibly gifted and determined Katherine G. Johnson. She enthuse the character with a great deal of barely contained intellectual and mathematical brilliance, a woman who knows she can make a huge difference to the world with her gifts, but has to deal with the pressures and frustrations of being a black woman in 1960s America. Her journey throughout the film is one that can’t help but tug on the heart strings, as she is confronted by adversities and issues throughout. Octavia Spencer is a great the equally brilliant and determined Dorothy Vaughan, who’s ingenuity and courage galvanises the story in a tremendous way. Janelle Monae provides plenty of charm and style to the movie, but her character Mary Jackson is also a remarkable person, who has to confront a 100 year old system of oppression just to have the right to earn the qualification needed to become an engineer and follow the path she is destined too.
The direction and script from Theodore Melfi are also great, giving lots of room for the performers to do their thing. There’s some surprising good humour in the movie, given it’s quite serious subject matter.There is some very funny dialogue, and the actors show their versatility by delivering it with enthusiasm and aplomb. He handles the tension of the story well, including a few nail biting moments in the films third act that are really effective. The film could easily become bogged down in maths and science, but Melfi ensures that the incredible characters shine through first and foremost.In fact, the script does such a good job of explaining the mathematical fundamentals of putting a person into orbit, even a complete idiot like myself could understand it!
The soundtrack works really well, particularity the original compositions from music superstar Pharell Williams. There could have been a temptation to fill it with the greatest hits of Motown, but instead the music takes it’s cues from the era, but creates something far more unique and memorable and fits the story so well. There is stellar support from the rest of the cast, including Mahershala Ali, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst and Aldis Hodge (someone give this guy a proper superhero movie role, please?) and Jim Parsons makes for a suitably sneering antagonist.
Quite simply folks, ‘Hidden Figures’ is a movie that is going to deliver much more than you expect, but it never loses sight of the importance for the incredible contribution these women have made to science, mathematics and human history and culture. By handling all of these lofty aims with wit and style, the movie creates a highly enjoyable experience for it’s audience and one that will hopefully educate the world on the importance of equality and treating each other with dignity. I have tried hard to find flaws in this movie, but honestly, aside from some slight underdeveloped characters, there really isn’t any. ‘Hidden Figures’ will leave you with a smile on your face and dreams in your heart of what we can accomplish here on earth and up in the furthest reaches of space.
Final score: 4 out of 5.
‘Hidden Figures’ is on general release in the UK on the 17th of February.