Fine cast for portrait of a genius

Geoffrey Rush as Albert Einstein in Genius, starting on DStv’s National Geographic channel at 8.05pm on Sunday, April 23.    Picture by National Geographic/Dusan Martincek

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BY BILLY SUTER

THE National Geographic Channel’s first scripted series, a 10-parter that looks at the tumultuous private life of the 20th century icon, Albert Einstein, is scheduled for its first episode on DStv at 8.05pm on Sunday, April 23.

Titled Genius, the series claims to reveal how Albert became Einstein, exploring his extraordinary professional achievements along with his volatile, passionate and complex personal relationships.

The show premieres globally in April on National Geographic in 171 countries and will be shown in 45 languages

Genius is based on Walter Isaacson’s book, Einstein: His Life and Universe, and is executive produced by Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Gigi Pritzker, with Howard making his scripted television directorial debut with the first episode.

Featuring Einstein’s lovers, enemies and fellow scientific luminaries, the show has a fine cast including Geoffrey Rush, an Oscar-winner for Shine and also seen in The Kings Speech and Pirates of the Caribbean, as the celebrated scientist.

Johnny Flynn (Clouds of Sils MariaSong OneLovesick) plays Albert in the years before he rose to international acclaim and Emily Watson (Theory of EverythingThe Book Thief) portrays his second wife – and first cousin –Elsa Einstein.

“Genius tracks Einstein’s rise from humble origins as an imaginative, rebellious thinker, through his struggles to be recognised by the establishment, to his global celebrity status as the man who unlocked the mysteries of the cosmos with his theory of relativity,” says a DStv spokesman.

“Delving deeper, the series follows Einstein’s alternately exhilarating emotions and heartlessness in dealing with his closest personal relationships, including his children, his two wives and the various women with whom he cheats on them.”

Genius is set against an era of global unrest over the course of two world wars. Faced with rising anti-Semitism in Europe, surveillance by spies and the potential for atomic annihilation, Einstein struggles as a husband and a father, not to mention as a man of principle, even as his own life is put in danger.

“I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious,” he says in the series.

Genius begins in Einstein’s teenage years, when he opposes his father and drops out of school in Germany to go to university in Switzerland.

His love of women and passion for theoretical physics blossom after he breaks the heart of his first love, Marie Winteler (Shannon Tarbet, A PromiseVirtuoso), to pursue his mysterious and elusive fellow physics student Mileva Maric (Samantha Colley, VictoriaThe Crucible).

Geoffrey Rush as Albert Einstein in National Geographic’s Genius. Picture by National Geographic/Dusan Martincek.

Their whirlwind romance puts them at odds with teachers and leads to an unexpected pregnancy, forcing both to set aside grand dreams and Einstein to take a mundane job as a patent clerk at the urging of his close friend Michele Besso (Seth Gabel, seen in Salem and Fringe).

Striving in earnest to break into the scientific establishment, Einstein publishes five original papers in one year, catching the eye of many, including the scientist who will go on to become his fiercest adversary, Dr. Philipp Lenard (Michael McElhatton of Game of Thrones).

As World War I looms and his marriage begins to crumble, Einstein throws himself into an affair with his first cousin Elsa.

Shifting global politics draw him into increasingly politicised scientific circles, causing friction with friends and fellow scientists like Fritz Haber (Richard Topol, Covert AffairsElementary) and Max Planck (Ralph Brown, Alien 3TURN: Washington’s Spies).

Taking a moral stand, Einstein refuses to support Germany’s war effort. When war descends and borders are shut down, he is prevented from going to his sons in Switzerland when they need him most.

Einstein’s fortunes rise after the war when relativity is proven right. On the verge of becoming an overnight celebrity, Elsa (Watson) demands he marry her to avoid the scandal such scrutiny will bring.

Fighting with Mileva for a divorce, Einstein also has to contend with the rollercoaster of fame.

fter a tense interview with consulate official Raymond Geist (Vincent Kartheiser, Mad MenSaints & Strangers), he escapes a rising tide of anti-Semitism and seeks sanctuary in the United States as an immigrant.

Living and teaching in Princeton, New Jersey, Einstein continues to be besieged on all sides. His fractious relationship with his children and grandchildren weighs on him, he ends up in bed with Russian spy Margarita Konenkova (Ania Bukstein, Game of Thrones) and must cope with J Edgar Hoover’s (T.R. Knight, Grey’s Anatomy) personal vendetta to bring him down.

He also faces possibly his biggest challenge ever: the pressure to set aside his lifelong pacifism in the hopes of stopping Hitler’s conquest of Europe.

Filmed in Prague, Czech Republic, where Einstein lived and taught early in his career, the series also features a raft of scientific superstars from the turn of the 20th century – including Marie and Pierre Curie, Wilhelm Rontgen, Carl Jung, Werner Heisenberg and others.


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