While the ‘true story’ of Hidden Figures has obviously been fiddled with and composited for dramatic effect (and a PG Rating), director Theodore Melfi’s biopic works anyway, with strong playing, a pleasing period look, a tense final third, and a sense of anger and injustice despite the family-friendly, crowd-pleasing trimmings.
Featuring a script drawn by Melfi and Allison Schroeder from Margot Lee Shetterly’s book of the same name, this introduces our three protagonists back in 1961 as they nearly run afoul of a racist cop after their car breaks down. Luckily he turns out to hate the Russians far more than these black women.
Genius mathematician Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), aspiring engineer Mary Jackson (singer/model/actress Janelle Monáe from Moonlight) and coordinator-in-all-but-name Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) are friends who work in the segregated West Area Computers division of Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and it’s Katherine who benefits most after Russia successfully launches a satellite and the Americans must respond.
Promoted by pinched supervisor Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst cast against type) to assist with the ‘Space Task Group’ under Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), Katherine must work with a team of dismissive and doubting men, especially head engineer Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons from TV’s The Big Bang Theory in mean mode). Her plight is contrasted with Mary’s, as she strives to be taken seriously and earn a degree, and Dorothy’s, as Vivian keeps denying her a promotion and she worries that new IBM computer technology will put her and her department out of a job (we’ve all been there).
Whenever we move from their workplace struggles this rather loses interest (Katherine’s romance with army officer Jim Johnson, as played by Mahershala Ali, also from Moonlight, is a little stilted), but it doesn’t matter, as director Melfi’s cast are so cool, and this truly is a story that should be told, particularly while race and gender are still such burning issues.
Rated PG. Hidden Figures is in cinemas now.