Imagine living in a time where you put forth a theory in which, “…the world stopped believing that God had any sort of plan for us? Nothing mattered. Not love, trust, faith – not honor. Only brute survival.” Now imagine that time is 1850s England and you are a scientist – very much living in a world where God is to be feared and has created all things great and small. You come up with a brave, new radical theory on human evolution. Would you risk everything – your professional reputation, standing in society, friends and family to put forward your radical new idea? This is the crux of what Creation wrestles with. It tells the story of Charles Darwin (Paul Bettany) and his tortuous struggle to produce his best known work, “On the Origin of Species.” More after the jump:
The opening quote of this review is Darwin’s reply to his daughter who, upon seeing her frightened and vulnerable father, asks “What are you so afraid of? It’s only a theory.” Yes, only a theory, but quite a theory considering the time and context. The notion stated by Thomas Huxley (Toby Jones) that there is “clear evidence of transformation…over millions of years from a free-swimming prawn to a shellfish stuck on a rock” and that “…evidently what is true of the barnacle is true of all creatures – even humans” is so radical for its time that it cast fear and doubt into the very author that produced it. win’s other scientific colleague who, along with Huxley, is primarily interested in pushing Darwin to finish his work. Complicating matters even further for Darwin is his wife Emma (played by Bettany’s real-life wife Jennifer Connelly) who is a deeply religious woman.
The struggle between these two and their beliefs are what often make for the most interesting moments of the film. Paul Bettany’s performance as Darwin is quiet and nuanced, playing one part brilliant scientist and one part deeply devoted family man. Scenes of Darwin the scientist in his study writing about and examining species, are juxtaposed against Darwin the father caring for and playing with his children. In one particularly impressive scene, we see Darwin and his children observe what will come to be known as Darwin’s “natural selection.” In this case, a defenseless baby bird and the consequences of its vulnerability. The way Director Jon Amiel chooses to portray this is quite effective visually.
Creation does a fine job of providing insight into how complex a man Darwin was, while attentively re-creating the time and period in its set design, costumes and cinematography. The talented cast is rounded out by Jeremy Northam who plays Reverend Innes – the local vicar and friend who would ultimately be driven away by Darwin’s obsessive impulses and slavish devotion to his new theory. In addition, it should be noted that of the four children in the cast, Martha West does a more than capable job of portraying nine-year old Annie Darwin – Darwin’s oldest, most beloved and ultimately tragic daughter. Yes, Darwin was the man that penned “On the Origin of the Species” – a theory that would change the world forever, but to claim that he was a cold and removed scientist/intellectual would be a disservice.