Like Ron Howard’s “A Beautiful Mind,” James Marsh’s “The Theory of Everything” presents a glossy, manipulative but affecting portrait of a brilliant man struck, but not struck down, by a terrible malady—in the case of John Nash, the protagonist of Howard’s film, schizophrenia, and in that of Stephen Hawking, the focus of this one, motor-neuron disease. There’s even a strong woman who stands with each man—in Nash’s case his wife Alicia (a role that won an Oscar for Jennifer Connelly), and here Hawking’s first wife Jane (Felicity Jones).

Each film also showcases a masterful lead performance. Russell Crowe did some of his finest work as Nash, and now Eddie Redmayne is equally, if not more, impressive as Hawking, given the physical demands of the role. He first appears as the Hawking of 1963, a gawky but genially grinning graduate student of cosmology at Cambridge. Socially awkward but intellectually confident, even endearingly arrogant, he’s encouraged by his tutor Dennis Sciama to test the boundaries of their discipline, and particularly the speculations about black holes propounded by Roger Penrose (Christian McKay).

Meanwhile Hawking meets Jane Wilde (Jones), a prim but sensitive girl who takes an immediate liking to the gangly young man, and the two are soon a couple despite their religious differences—she’s a believer, and he isn’t. It isn’t long, however, before his disease strikes, and given a diagnosis that predicts he will survive only two years, Hawking goes into an understandable funk, from which only Jane’s intervention saves him. And despite warnings about how difficult it will be from Hawking’s parents Isobel and Frank (Emily Watson and Simon McBurney), they marry, and eventually have three children.

The film basically juxtaposes two plot strands, one concerning Stephen and Jane’s life together, in which she emerges in many responds as courageous as he, ministering to him as he comes to be confined to a wheelchair, able to communicate aurally only through an artificial speech-generating apparatus, and the other to Hawking’s scientific work, which involves groundbreaking theories about the origin of the universe and the nature of time. The ability of Anthony McCarten’s script—based on Jane’s memoir “Traveling to Infinity”—to elucidate the latter aspect of the picture is limited: complaints have already been raised about its fidelity to the complexity of Hawking’s thought, and its tendency to simplify things for dramatic effect. But one can certainly read Hawking’s bestselling “A Brief History of Time” for a more accurate treatment of his ideas.

More problematic, from a dramatic point of view, is the film’s underplaying of the darker elements of the couple’s relationship. Hawking is eventually provided with a nurse, Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake), whose peremptory attitude seems to agree with him; and he decides to divorce Jane and marry her with what seems a brusqueness that goes pretty much dismissed. More time is given over to the family’s friendship with widowed choral director Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox), whom Jane will eventually wed after Hawking has broken with her. These interpersonal matters are presented with such discretion that it’s clear that McCarten and Marsh are dancing around some fairly raw realities with the cinematic version of the stiff-upper-lip attitude one sees in the depictions of Isobel and Frank Hawking, as well as many of the other secondary characters.

But Redmayne’s performance alone would be enough to compensate for far greater failings than these. He charts Hawking’s gradual physical deterioration with uncanny skill in a turn that much have been as challenging as any that Lon Chaney Sr. ever faced. But he also captures the man’s indefatigable curiosity about the way the universe works and his willingness to reconsider, and even reject, conclusions that have won him high praise when new, and perhaps better, inspirations strike him. All this is done in cinematic shorthand, of course; the film doesn’t try to depict the long succession of calculations and equations that he must have gone through to reach even a provisional hypothesis, instead suggesting that his ideas came out of some lightning inspiration. But that is, of course, the stuff of conventional biographical pictures about individuals who overcome great obstacles to achieve great things—the genre into which “The Theory of Everything” actually falls. And so good is Redmayne, who also catches Hawking’s impish sense of humor, that the result is more moving than it probably should be.

He also overshadows everyone else in the cast, that Jones is actually very strong as Jane, and Thewlis and Cox are also fine as figures who offer Hawking sympathetic support at crucial moments. Technically the picture is a lush period piece, with John Paul David’s production design and Steven Noble’s costumes, along with the lovely locations, enhanced by Benoit Delhomme’s rich cinematography and Johann Johansson’s spare but striking score.

Marsh’s film doesn’t tell you everything about Stephen Hawking. And Hawking’s story lacks the twists and uncertainties that made “A Beautiful Mind” so compelling. But thanks largely to Redmayne, it doesn’t fall into the trap of mawkishness so many such inspirational biographical pictures fail to avoid.