Rating: * * * *
Verdict: An intelligent and well-acted drama.
When publishing his revolutionary theory on the origins of man, English naturalist Charles Darwin was concerned his work would destroy the church and its communities. More than that, though - as this angst-filled biopic shows - Darwin was more worried about what his wife might say.
Flashbacks as Darwin (Bettany) tells his children stories of his studies and travels go some way towards explaining how he came to his theory of natural selection, published in his 1859 book The Origins of Species. Creation, though, is focused mostly on the act of writing and publishing the book, examining the intense pressure placed on Darwin by those encouraging him, led by fellow scientists Thomas Huxley (Toby Jones) and Joseph Hooker (Benedict Cumberbatch), and those against his publication, including his deeply religious wife Emma (Connelly), and the family vicar Reverend Innes (Jeremy Northam).
To this mix is added Darwin's grief and guilt over the tragic death of his 10-year-old daughter Annie (Martha West), which adds further to his anguish and increasing lack of religious faith. Tormented by Annie's ghost, Darwin is almost paralysed with sorrow and indecision which threatens to drive a wedge between this once attentive father and his family.
Bettany's performance is that of the scientist as tortured artist. Hunched, sickly and frowning for most of the film, he's compelling and convincing, even if the bald cap he wears as he ages is distracting. Connelly (his wife in real life) manages to inject some warmth into her stoic character and, as you would expect, the two have a lovely, gentle chemistry between them.
Based on the book by Darwin's great-great-grandson Randal Keynes, Creation feels too short a snapshot of Darwin's life. It would be nice to see more of Darwin's adventurous experiences, as they offer some lightness and humour to what is an oppressive film. There is plenty of emotion in Creation, but it's mostly despair which when combined with a sense of Victorian repression and a sombre palette results in a cold film, albeit one of fine performances.
Cast: Paul Bettany, Jennifer Connelly
Director: Jon Amiel
Running time: 108 mins
Rating: PG (low-level offensive language)