FIRST it was Bond, then Peter Rabbit, followed by The Secret Garden. Due to the coronavirus crisis, film distributors have been pulling movies from the schedules left, right and centre and postponing their releases till later in the year.

Radioactive, Marjane Satrapi’s biopic of Marie Curie, got in just under the wire. Whether people are quite in the mood for what is a sombre, rather worthy, piece is another matter.

Then again, perhaps a reminder of scientific heroism and endeavour is just what the film doctor should order this week.

Rosamund Pike plays the pioneer of radioactivity and discoverer of two new elements, radium and polonium, that changed the world for good and ill.

We first meet her in Paris 1934 when she has already found fame and been awarded two Nobel prizes. As she collapses and is rushed to hospital, director Marjane Satrapi winds the clock back to 1893 when Marie Curie, or Sklodowska as the Polish-born scientist was then, was taking on the almost exclusively male scientific establishment, on this occasion because her instruments had been moved in the lab. It was a battle, one of many, she was to fight throughout her life.

Pierre Curie (Sam Riley) offers her a spot in his lab. Like her, he is an outsider. Rare for the times, he is accepting of her ambition and need for independence. Professional collaboration leads to friendship then marriage and children.

Satrapi’s step by step, breakthrough by breakthrough approach to the story makes for a plodding pace. Later she widens her focus to look at what led from Curie’s work, from the development of weapons of mass destruction to cancer treatment, but this makes the film feel fragmented, with too much being crammed in.

Pike, drawn and intense, delivers a cleverly measured portrait of Curie, showing her as a woman who was not afraid to be disliked, or cause scandal, and who put her career before everything else – including, as we see, her own health. Riley makes a fine match for her, even if his character’s dialogue tends towards the creaky, while Simon Russell Beale does a terrific turn representing the conservative medical establishment of the day who regarded Curie as a stroppy troublemaker.

This is a remarkable achievement by Satrapi, a world away in some senses from her Oscar-nominated Persepolis of 2007, but, like that animated biography, a film that puts the experience of women at its core. After seeing this, one not only has a greater sense of Curie the scientist and the woman, one admires her even more.