Film review: ‘Creation: the true story of Charles Darwin’


Creation really is a bit of a curate's egg. Set mainly in the 1840s and 1850s, it tells the story of how Charles Darwin came to write On the Origin of Species, having devised his great theory of evolution by means of Natural Selection some years earlier. The film contains numerous flashbacks, a number of which are revealed through the charming device of Darwin telling stories to his children.

Paul Bettany is the perfect choice to play Darwin, having served his apprenticeship playing the clearly Darwin-inspired Dr Stephen Maturin in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Bettany's real-life wife, Jennifer Connelly, also makes a great Emma Darwin, and Benedict Cumberbatch is just right for the young Joseph Dalton Hooker—but Toby Jones doesn't look at all right in his cameo role as Thomas Henry Huxley.

Paul Bettany as Charles Darwin
Paul Bettany as Charles Darwin.

The sets are great, the acting is great, and the subject matter is great. Admittedly, several liberties are taken with historical facts, but most of these can be justified in the interest of keeping the drama moving along. Artistic licence, and all that. My problem with the film, though, is when the drama turns into melodrama.

As anyone who has read up on Darwin will know, his favourite daughter, Annie, died age ten. Annie's death, and its affect on Darwin, is central to the film. In several scenes, we see Darwin in conversation with his dead daughter. Initially, this isn't nearly as daft as it sounds: it's not as if Darwin is speaking with a ghost; it's more as if he is having a conversation with his late daughter in this head. In fact, these early conversations are rather moving.

But then it all starts to go horribly wrong. Darwin has visions (presumably in a dream) of his scientific specimens coming to life in their glass jars, and, the next thing we know, he is running after his deceased daughter through the grounds of Down House, and trying to destroy his dovecote with his bare hands. A short while later, there is another ghost-chase through the streets of Malvern.

Let me make this perfectly clear: Charles Darwin did not chase ghosts. Not ever.

Like I said, Creation really is a bit of a curate's egg. The good bits are really good, but the paranormal nonsense is just that: utter nonsense. A classic case of taking dramatic licence way too far.

Having said that, the non-Darwin groupie who accompanied me to the cinema really enjoyed the film, and even managed to shed a few quiet tears during the more poignant scenes.

Note: I will receive a small referral fee if you buy via one of the above links.

Richard Carter, FCD

Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteNewsletterMastodonetc…

One comment

  1. tears that they could not understant what he said and how revolutionised our understanding about life on the earth?

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