Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly in Creation.
Perhaps no other scientist in history has sparked more controversy than Charles Darwin. His theory of evolution is accepted as fact by many, debated by others and flat out refused by others. Some scholars have posed the question, "Did Darwin kill god?" A question that no doubt is as capable of stirring up debate as Darwin's original theory. It's also not a question that is answered by Creation, which only tells the story of Darwin writing his famous book and not the consequences.
Darwin (Bettany) was one of those figures about who I knew very little. Everyone knows the basics of his theory, but of his personal life I knew nothing. According to this film, which is based upon a play written by Darwin's great-great grandson, while Darwin was a botanist, geologist, biologist and many different kinds of scientist, his driving force in life was his family, especially the light of his life, his oldest daughter Annie.
While Darwin's theory is often used as a rejection of religion, Darwin himself was a church-going, religious man for most of his life. He may have been skeptical of a literal interpretation of the bible, but he attended church regularly and one of his best friends was a minister. It was only upon the death of his daughter Annie of Scarlet Fever at just 10 years of age that he completely rejected God. His wife (played by Bettany's real-life wife Jennifer Connelly) did the opposite and became even more religious, finding peace in the belief that Annie was now in heaven.
This is not a particularly upbeat movie. Through most of it Darwin is deeply depressed and bordering on madness. He retreats from the world and his family. His only companion is the ghost of his dead daughter. Through flashbacks we learn of her death and some of the family history. Darwin struggles to write his book and goes through various quack medical treatments in an effort to treat what he sees as a physical illness, but would today be treated as a psychological ailment.
Bettany does a good job portraying the depressed scientist and family man. He and Connelly make a believable couple (you'd hope so) and you feel that despite all their difficulties that this is a couple that love each other. And as their relationship and the family are the real heart of the movie and not the Theory of Evolution, it's important that they work well together.
Although Darwin would go on to become arguably the most famous scientist in history this is more a movie of a father coping with the death of his daughter than it is a treatise on his work or an exploration of his celebrity. As such it can be a bit of a depressing slog, but thanks to the performances of its leads, it does have a satisfying ending.
Toby Jones, Paul Bettany and Benedict Cumberbatch in Creation.
I really disliked this movie. Here is one of the most controversial scientific theories in all of human history and they've gone and made a very dull movie about how it came to be written. I was expecting some heated intellectual debates between Darwin and his minister friend but other than a few brief conversations it never happens. Instead we get scene after scene of a mordant Darwin agonizing over the death of his young daughter. He hallucinates her presence and really does seem to be going mad. At least that is how the direction is intended to make it seem. Frankly I was annoyed by it before the end.
Paul Bettany gives a fussy, overly mannered performance as Charles Darwin. He is in nearly every scene and has to carry the movie. He does manage to project Darwin's fragile mental state but other than sadness and confusion he isn't given a very broad range of emotion. The script never takes full advantage of the source material. Most of the scientific theory is shown as Darwin teaching his young children lessons by telling them stories involving animals.
He and Jennifer Connelly do make a believable married couple but I found her to be quite dull as the devoutly religious Emma Darwin. And the pacing is pretty listless. It runs 108 minutes but seems to last far longer than that. Although it was marketed as the story of how Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species this is really the story of how Charles and Emma Darwin dealt with the death of their young daughter Annie and how it eventually became an impetus for Charles to write his book.
It isn't until near the very end of the movie that he actually writes his book. The last 20 minutes are quite engrossing as he shows his work to his wife to read, telling her she alone gets to decide whether they publish it or burn it. I wasn't expecting a documentary with a bunch of scientists pontificating on the theory of evolution but I was certainly hoping for something a bit more intellectually stimulating than this highly emotional and very intimate look at the life of Charles Darwin. The focus almost never leaves his immediate family.
Creation isn't about the science versus religion controversy that Charles Darwin sparked and that continues to be debated today. This is the melodramatic story of his family life and the role that personal tragedy played in the writing of one of the most influential books in history.
Photos © Copyright BBC Films (2010)