Using newsreels, family home movies and stills, stock footage, dramatization and interviews, this biography relates the life and times of Irène Joliot-Curie and her husband, Frédéric Joliot-Curie. Though less well known than those of Irène’s parents, Marie and Pierre Curie, the Joliot-Curies’ discoveries were of equal significance. In 1934 the two were the first to induce artificial radioactivity, in the process changing one element into another, a discovery for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. This discovery led directly to great advances in medicine and science, and ultimately, to their dismay, to the creation of the atomic bomb. The film portrays their evident happiness together with their children, alongside their struggles with ill health as well as political unrest and war.
In the face of the growing threat of Hitler’s Germany, both Irene and Frédéric became involved politically in the French anti-Fascist and anti-Nazi movements. Once France fell, Frédéric became a leading member of the French Resistance. Between 1945 and 1950, both Joliot-Curies were appointed to prestigious national scientific positions, culminating in the completion in 1948 of the first French nuclear reactor.
Long a tuberculosis patient, Irène developed leukemia as had her mother, due to a lifetime of heavy exposure to radiation. She died in 1956. Suffering from hepatitis, Frédéric succumbed two years later. This skillfully produced film is a fitting portrayal of two remarkable scientists and patriots who deserve to be better known. Especially powerful are the interviews with their children, who recount memories of their parents and their personalities and struggles.
This would be a fine addition to a high school collection where it could be used as a vehicle to inspire the young to pursue a career in science. It is suitable as well for college and public libraries where interest exists or with strong collections in the subject areas.
– Eugenia Abbey, Georgia Perimeter College
Nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2009 Paris Science Film Festival in France.
Funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation