reviewed by Marc Glassman
Jon Amiel, director. Jeremy Thomas, producer. John Collee, script based on Randal Keynes’ biography Annie’s Box
Starring: Paul Bettany (Charles Darwin), Jennifer Connelly (Emma Darwin), Martha West (Anne Darwin), Jeremy Northam (Reverend John Brodie-Innes), Toby Jones (Thomas Henry Huxley), Benedict Cumberbarch (Joseph Dalton Hooker)
Dramatizing the life of Charles Darwin is no easy task. On the one hand, the English naturalist penned one of the most important books of all time, On the Origin of the Species, which proposed the still controversial theory of evolution. On the other, he was an often quite ill scientist and writer, who spent a good part of his life writing books while living with his wife and many children.
So where’s the hook for Creation, a big budget film about Darwin’s life? It lies in the tale of Darwin’s eldest daughter Annie, who fell ill and eventually died of a fever somewhat similar to the kind that plagued her father. If there’s a personal narrative, the film suggests, it’s in the tragedy of Darwin’s own decision to marry his first cousin, Emma—perhaps the bloodlines were too close.
But Creation never tackles that topic head-on nor does it take on the most important subject in Darwin’s life, his evolutionary theory. He argues with the village preacher a bit about its implications and one of Darwin’s colleagues, Thomas Henry Huxley proclaims that he’s “killed God,” but the sensation that the publication of Darwin’s book is not even included in the tale, which concludes with the publication of On the Origin of the Species.
What the film does show us is a man stuck in a writer’s block, mourning his daughter and trying to placate his loving wife, who is a believer in God and afraid of her husband’s possibly heretical doctrine. The stuff of drama perhaps, but not as far reaching as one might have hoped for a film on Darwin and his still very contentious theories. (Creation’s producer Jeremy Thomas found it difficult to place the film with an American distributor because so many fundamentalists still oppose Darwin’s theories in the US.)
Creation does benefit from a fine cast. Paul Bettany as Darwin and young Martha West as Anne are particularly affecting. Creation is a solid historical film, deserving of polite applause but not rousing cheers.