CREATION is a handsomely made, beautifully acted biopic of Charles Darwin, focussing on the period during which he wrote his seminal work, ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES. Based on the biography by Randal Keynes, the movie stars real-life couple Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly as Charles and Emma Darwin. They are utterly convincing as a deeply loving couple grown distant because of their differing reactions to Darwin's work, more widely, and to familial grief, more closely. Emma looks to the Church for solace, as represented by the orthodox but genuinely concerned Reverend Innes. Charles turns to his science, and experiences a gradual loss of faith. He also, most touchingly, lives in his memories of his relationship with his dead little girl Annie (Martha West). One of the most brutal lines in the film is where Charles asks Emma whether his fancies are an more a prop than her idea of Annie in heaven.
What I love about this film is that, despite the costumes and the lush period settings, which can so often be distancing, there is an immediacy and credibility to the Darwin family. I completely believed in the emotional and intellectual struggle between the two parents, and I was entranced by the relationship between Charles and his daughter Annie. Martha West (daughter of the Dominic West) has genuine charisma, and it's delightful to see Charles' delight in telling his children fantastical stories of different tribes he has encountered on his travels.
The movie also cleverly sidesteps the highly politicised debate (in the US at least) between believing in evolutionary theory and in the Old Testament. Rather than reducing the movie to a bald and crude debate between the two sides, CREATION makes the struggles personal and nuanced. Reverend Innes is orthodox but no fanatic - he wants to be a genuine friend to Darwin. And Darwin is losing faith, but for a personal reason, and sees in the wondrous variety of nature something to be praised.
Given the lamentful tone of the piece, its considered pacing and focus on internal struggle, I was rather surprised to find that CREATION had been directed by Jon Amiel, the man behind action flicks, THE CORE and ENTRAPMENT. But he has completely succeeded in creating a quiet, delicate film in which deep issues are internalised.
CREATION played Toronto 2009 and was released in 2009 in the UK, Greece and New Zealand. It was released earlier this year in the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, and the US. It goes on release in Brazil next week and in Argentina on April 15th. It is available on DVD and on iTunes.
Additional tags: Jon Amiel, John Collee, Randal Keynes, Jim Carter, Martha West, Christopher Young, Jess Hall.