Review: Hidden Figures

Go see @HiddenFigures ! No, really you’ll love it if you have a soul. Heck, I don’t have a soul and I loved it.

Firstly and primarily, the central trio Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe have such a sparkly chemistry together that they could have easily carried a lesser film. Yet each in their turn bring life and depth to the individual stories of the three women.

It’s the early 1960s and the USA is playing catch-up in the space race. A ‘computer’ at this time is a person (primarily women) employed to do manual calculations. Katherine Goble is a mathematical (and arithmetical) prodigy, Dorothy Vaughan is the unrecognised supervisor of the ‘coloured’ computers and Mary Jackson is a frustrated engineer – unable to access the qualifications she needs to be recognised because of the segregation of Virginia’s schools. Over a backdrop of growing cold war tensions and civil rights struggles, they each play a vital role in NASA’s attempt to get a man into orbit.

Yes, the social politics, the gender politics, the race politics, the orbital mechanics and the algebra all get heavily simplified for the purposes of plot BUT you get a film with all those things in them that simplifies without trivialising. There is only one scene where I winced (Jim Parsons explaining what going into orbit means to a bunch of NASA scientists) but plot exposition appeared to demand it.

And mathematics is heroic! Taraji Henson is utterly convincing as a mathematician tasked with solving the problems of safely bringing an astronaut back from orbit and there is some actual maths shown.

Yes, it’s a feel good movie but what it offers is the chance to believe that three women can solve complex problems by using their brains and tenacity – and that’s an idea I’d like to feel good about.