A Love Affair--of Science!
Actually, I think the importance of Polish independence to Our Heroine would have made a bit of a stirring message in 1943, were it not that the country Poland was trying to become independent from in that earlier time was then one of our allies, and you wouldn't want to do anything to risk the alliance. While the movie is in large part the story of the discovery of radium, with a love story thrown in to lighten the science, we don't even get a mention of the discovery of polonium. We don't get the information that she named an element after her beloved homeland, despite the fact that she never lived there during her working years. The general public did not, in 1943, know the importance radioactivity was about to assume in their day-to-day lives, but the stirring story of a Polish woman and her French husband was the kind of thing that helped remind Americans that they were fighting for more than just themselves.
Maria Skłodowska (Greer Garson) was born in the Russian part of Poland, and she is now living in Paris and studying chemistry, physics, and of course mathematics. One of her professors, Jean Perot (Albert Bassermann), finds her a job and a corner of a lab to do her work in. The lab is that of Pierre Curie (Walter Pidgeon), who is one of the many people who believe that women have no place in science. However, he comes to develop an affection for her, and when she graduates and says she's going back to Poland to teach, he realizes that he loves her. They get married, and they agree that they must continue to work together. One day, Henri Becquerel (Reginald Owen) showed Marie, and she is called in French, and Pierre the picture he has taken with the rays which will come to be called X-Rays. She and Pierre then work to isolate what they believe is a new element from pitchblende, one which is responsible for the unusual findings their experiments produce.
I am not an expert on the lives of the Curies by any stretch, though the first biography of Marie Curie I ever read was a ValueTales available at my elementary school library. ([i]The Value of Learning[/i]; I don't remember what her imaginary friend was.) However, I think the history and science are both about as accurate as you're going to get out of a biopic made in that era. Leaving aside the Poland thing, of course. Also there's the fact that Lord Kelvin (C. Aubrey Smith) in this movie is best described as "avuncular." I'm not sure if this is even chronologically correct; there was an early stretch where he didn't believe in X-Rays at all and thought they were a hoax, though this was no longer true later in his life. Certainly he was not as inclined to consider anyone else to be nearly so great as he was, and I don't see him as terribly likely to think that anyone deserved to make a discovery on their own. I know, for example, that he always assumed he would get the best scores on exams and once sent someone to find out who'd gotten the second-highest mark. He had.
There is a certain amount of truth to the idea that the general public would not be too interested in a movie just about the discovery of radium. This is, not to put too fine a point on it, because the discovery of radium was a lot of hard, boring work. I don't even just mean that from the perspective of a non-scientist. I'm quite certain that even in the moment, Marie and Pierre thought a lot of the work was boring. It was lengthy and repetitive. It involved repeating a lot of work over and over again for a long time. Remember that the most important final step in the whole thing is letting water evaporate. There is no way of making that interesting. There just isn't. I'm sure there are people who are interested in every step of the process; they want to know exactly which acids and things are used in each step of the process, and even they don't want to watch the water evaporate. In the movie, Marie and Pierre go home and go to bed, and I have no doubt that's what really happened.
Some time ago, I came across a list of the female scientists that everyone should know about. Marie wasn't on it, doubtless on the grounds that everyone knows about her, and these weren't the three female scientists everyone actually already does know about. However, it's worth noting that Irčne Curie (Margaret O'Brien) did make it onto the list; she is one of the other Nobel laureates of the Curie family. I think in many ways life was easier for her. Part of it was that she was born in France; quite a lot of her mother's problems were because her mother was Polish--they were compounded by the claim that she was Jewish, not the most popular thing to be at the time. However, Irčne had the distinct advantage of coming at a time after her mother had proven that there was a place for women in the hard sciences. Those doors still aren't quite as open as the Curie women would have hoped, I think, but they're a heck of a lot more open now because of the work they did.