Creation: Jon Amiel’s Melodramatic Chronicle of Darwin, Starring Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly

Surprisingly, there have been few pictures or TV films about Charles Darwin, whose book, “On the Origin of Species,” published in 1859, revolutionized the scientific community and served as the foundation for evolutionary biology. In this respect, “Creation,” Jon Amiel’s chronicle of Darwin’s various struggles to publish this work, from a screenplay by John Collee, based upon Darwin’s great great-grandson Randal Keynes’ book, “Annie’s Box,” is welcome. 
The timing is right for such a film. This year marks the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his best-known work, “On the Origin of Species–By Means of Natural Selection.” Unfortunately, what unfolds on screen is a rather old-fashioned melodrama of the indefatigable Darwin, a man tormented by dilemmas as a believer, scholar, and above all husband and father.
World-premiering to mixed response at the 2009 Toronto Film Fest as opening night, “Creation” will be released theatrically by New Market in late January 2010.
Part expose of ideas, with observations set in nature, part chronicle of science versus religious, part depiction of how the book came into being, “Creation” is not particularly satisfying on any of these levels. Instead, the feature is more compelling as a portrait of a troubled marriage, inflicted by several deaths and defined by endless arguments between Charles Darwin and is wife Emma Darwin, played by real-life couple Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly.
It’s the actors’ second onscreen appearance after the 2001 Oscar-winning film, “A Beautiful Mind.” Speaking of biography, “Creation” is penned by John Collee, who had also don Peter Weir’s 2003 “Master and the Commander: The Far Side of the World,” which allotted Paul Bettany a major role as a naturalist.
Jon Amiel is a versatile directed, having helmed “The Singing Detective,” “Entrapment,” “Copycat,” and “Sommersby,” among others. “Creation” is ambitious in goal, trying to offer an inside look at the single most explosive idea in history, which introduced the world to Darwin. But the execution leaves much to be desired: the film is too conventional, a fact made more evident by its Masterpiece Theater look, and it doesn’t help that it’s done as a domestic melodrama.
Darwin’s still controversial book “On the Origin of Species” depicts nature as a battleground, an idea illustrated visually through observations of various exotic animals as they try to survive in nature; some of these scenes have an appropriately creepy feel to them. Torn between faith and reason, and the love he had for his deeply religious wife, Darwin is a man beset by constant struggles. 
The filmmakers made one smart choice, namely, to concentrate on Darwin as a young, vibrant man, rather than an old thinker, a husband and father whose mental and physical health gradually buckles under the weight of guilt and grief for losing two of his six children.
When first met, Darwin is in his early 40s, living a rather quiet life in an idyllic English village. An intellectually brilliant, and deeply emotional man, he’s devoted to his wife and children, but gradually he begins to distance himself from his clan. As a result, the void between Darwin and wife Emma becomes more and more apparent and it begins to affect his children to the point where their house becomes a place of dark shadows and secrets.
The first reels depict Darwin’s retreats to his study and his discussions with his ten-year-old daughter Annie, a precocious and inquisitive. Soon, it becomes clear that Darwin communicates with Annie as a living being as well as apparition and spirit.
There are too many cuts and transitions, as the story moves back and forth through Annie’s short life and the years following her death. Even so, an interesting portrait of an intimate father-daughter relationship emerges. In fact, Annie’s death sharpens Darwin’s conviction that natural laws have nothing to do with divine intervention. But to his contemporaries, this is a rather dangerous, threatening, revolutionary idea. 
Darwin makes a poignant pilgrimage to the hotel in Malvern, checking into room 12, where Annie died while receiving treatment. The journey marks a change in him, and he is finally able to deal with and share his grief with Emma. Though shocked by her husband’s views, Emma reaffirms her admiration for his passion and intellect. 
As a good, loyal hubby, Darwin then decides that Emma must make the final decision about publishing his work. How do you dramatize the act of writing and reading? After reading the manuscript, Emma quietly returns it to him addressed to a publisher in London. For the Darwins, love takes priority over ideas or beliefs. We are led to believe that, ultimately, it is the memory of Annie, his adored, and most favorite child, that leads Darwin out of darkness to reconnect with his wife and family and thus enable him to create the book that changed the world. 
The very last scene conveys vividly how books were delivered and published in those days. Walking down the lane, Darwin holds the packaged book, waiting for the postman to arrive. But hesitant, he begins to falter, almost letting the postman go empty-handed. When he leaves, the postman is unaware of the time-bomb he is carrying out. Darwin then walks home, accompanied by a little girl skipping happily alongside him.
End Note
Darwin’s 1859 explosive book was published at a time when church underpinned society, and humans were believed to be God’s separate and most precious creation. The tome proposed a logical explanation for the diversity of species including the evolution of man, and was to forever change the way we view mankind and our place in the world, sparking controversy and debate that still rages today, even with the scientific evidence that now exists, such as DNA research and genetics.
Arguably, no single researcher since Darwin has matched his impact on the natural and social sciences, from his theories of evolution and their impact on religion and politics through to cultural relations and philosophy. Over 125 years since his death, his work continues to serve as an inspiration for generations of scientists and thinkers. 
2009 also marks the 50th anniversary of the Galapagos National Park. Darwin spent five weeks during his voyage as a naturalist on the H.M.S. Beagle visiting the archipelago of volcanic islands off the coast of Ecuador. The observations and findings he made there shaped his ideas and set the foundations for the theory of evolution he would work on for more than 20 years.