Einstein and Eddington is a beautiful historical drama, detailing the professional friendship between Arthur Eddington and Albert Einstein in the early twentieth century. While their respective countries indulged (and got lost in) in petty, meaningless and murderous nationalisms, both scientists persevered in trying to see the world as it really was. Despite their fundamental differences, and with science being abused by the ultimate in rationalisation, these two insisted on pushing its frontiers into something entirely new.
Both David Tennant and Andy Serkis are sublime as Eddington and Einstein respectively, the former coming across sometimes worryingly John Smith, although that being more a reflection on the dramatic qualities he brings to Doctor Who, allowing his run occasionally to transcend its genre than anything else. Their performances reflect the characters dualities – both being of their time and social standing yet hugely different from one another – Eddington a closeted gay Quaker who championed measurement and precision, and Einstein who was so far ahead of his time that God and the afterlife were as intellectually absurd as nationality. As Nigel Hawkes says:
Einstein was a non-believer, a bohemian with an eye for the ladies; Eddington was a straitlaced Quaker who lived with his sister and constantly struggled to square science and God. One was a dreamer of genius; the other an experimentalist devoted to careful measurement and empirical truth.
The First World War informs both of their thinking, and indeed their faith – was Einstein to take God out of Newton? In the end God becomes a personal, positive quality affecting the individual, rather than being a determining shaper of the universe. You have to wonder whether the means by which this is indeed currently expressed by mainstream society was forged by Eddington’s proof of the General Theory of Relativity, but it makes a very satisfying outcome to the drama. Against the odds Eddington proved that starlight indeed bent, that spacetime was shaped, but ultimately also the story’s moral – that the pursuit of truth in science transcends national boundaries. A story for the ages and well worth 90 highly engaging minutes. If you missed it it’s on the BBC iPlayer for a week from today.