Release date: 17th February 2017/Watch the trailer here
Hidden Figures is based on the untold true story of three African-American women mathematicians who played a crucial role at NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program: Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe). Working as ‘human computers’ and engineers in the midst of the Space Race, these women overcame racism and sexism in order to help NASA launch John Glenn (Glen Powell) into orbit aboard the Friendship 7.
It’s the central performances of Henson, Spencer and Monáe that truly elevate Hidden Figures into becoming the excellent film that it is. They have wonderful chemistry together, developed right from their very first shared scene, and each has their own individual moment to shine, too. From Katherine putting her future husband, Colonel Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali), in his place when he expresses doubt that women are able to work at NASA (‘It’s not because we wear skirts, it’s because we wear glasses’), to Mary taking her request to be allowed to attend classes at an all-white school to court and putting forth a moving argument in her favour, Hidden Figures is filled with inspirational and empowering instances of its leading ladies’ successes.
Unfortunately, however, for every success of Katherine, Dorothy and Mary, there’s also a hero moment for Kevin Costner’s Space Task Group director, Al Harrison, and the majority of his saves-the-day scenes are heavy-handed to the point of cheesiness (‘At NASA, we all pee the same colour’, he says, after ridding NASA of its segregated bathrooms). Historical inaccuracy aside, Costner’s ‘good guy’ character (an amalgamation of three different NASA directors during Johnson’s time there) was clearly created to be the one sympathetic white NASA employee, while engineer Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons) and supervisor Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) exist to be the utterly unlikeable representations of the prejudice of the era.
Thankfully, the irresistible warmth and wit of Henson, Spencer and Monáe is never far away, steering Hidden Figures back on track whenever it occasionally veers slightly off-course. It’s the very best kind of feel-good film: funny, uplifting and entertaining from start to finish. The three smart women at the centre of it and their refusal to back down in the face of adversity make them a different kind of hero, which we desperately need to see more of.