Last updated on 22 Jun 2018
I just saw the movie Creation, with Paul Bettany as Darwin and Jennifer Connelly (Bettany’s real life wife) as Emma Darwin. And I am very pleasantly surprised how well it worked as a film, as well as how effectively it represented the era. My quibbles are just that, quibbles. Mostly, the history was good (despite the famous tree diagram being shown as a sheet and not a page in the Notebooks), but the overall dramatic themes are just wrong.
Keynes, a descendent of Darwin’s, told a story of how Darwin lost his faith after his daughter Annie died. It’s a pretty story, and the scriptwriters have made much of Darwin’s anxieties and fears after her death. However, it is a story only. All the documentary evidence is that Darwin’s faith had waned long before her death, and her death added nothing to that choice. Also, the film portrays battles between Charles and Emma over religion, which struck a hollow note for me. He always remained respectful of her faith and tried hard not to offend her, unlike events in the film. He did, however, fear that being married to his first cousin had diluted the strength of their children, which is excellently portrayed.
Desmond and Moore’s thesis that Darwin’s illness was psychological, based on his anxieties over the radical nature of his theories, as a “class traitor”, is also given a run. That most commentators think it likely he had Chagas’ disease is not even alluded to, or any other physical cause. This, too, strikes a deeply hollow note. There is a big disconnect between this frail, neurotic Darwin of myth, and the assured, direct and careful Darwin of record. A few too many liberties have been taken by both historians and scriptwriters.
Such academic matters to one side, this turned out to be a moving, engaging and well produced film. The way the film Darwin grieved for his daughter was very convincing and full of pathos. My nonacademic companions were enthralled. Bettany and Connelly are excellently cast, with in Connelly’s case a brilliant English accent for an American, and the young girl who plays Annie doesn’t do a bad job either. If I have a problem, it was the casting of Toby Jones as Tom Huxley; he’s too short. This is not meant to impugn his acting, but it was jarring; Bettany like Darwin is around 6 foot, and Hooker (Benedict Cumberbatch) was relatively tall too, but as far as I know, Huxley was not a short man. When the other two stand next to him, it is odd. Also, would Huxley ever have said “You’ve killed God, sir” to Darwin? I really doubt it.
I wonder if I can get a copy to show to my Darwinism students?