The British film, Creation, finally showed up in Sacramento. I'd been looking forward to it for some time as being a BBC product, I know the script would be well written and with the competent Paul Bettany and lovely Jennifer Connelly as CR and Emma Darwin, I knew that alone would be worth the price of admission for 2 seniors.
The storyline pretends to focus on the preparation of CR's writing On the Origin. I'd known that, of course, not from just being a Darwin addict but also from reading the reviews in the New Yorker, Time and New York Review of Books. Visually, the film is delightful with splendid costuming and recapturing visual scenes of those times. The story largely unfolds in at the Darwin house in Down with some spot flashbacks. The supporting cast is likewise superb with Jeremy Northam as the local Vicar, Innes, Toby Jones as Huxley and Ben Cumberbatch as Hooker. So, I walked in and prepared to be delighted.
However, what unfolds is a hodge-podge of romantic speculation surrounding the death of Annie Darwin, which portrays her as a ghostly manifestation of CR's alter Ego, drawn out on a canvas of his misgivings about promulgating his ideas on natural selection. There is some excellent repartee presented on the gentle but firm coaxing by Hooker and aggressive and feisty prodding by Huxley, but behind it, you the portrayed ideological misgivings of Emma who is presented as much more fundamentalist in her views than the recorded biographies of the Darwins afford.
The Wedgewoods and Darwins were hardly that docternaire. Indeed, they were Unitarians, Whigs and outspoken abolitionists. Old Joshua Wedgewood and Erasmus Darwin, CR and Emma's common grandfathers, were active supporters of the abolitionist, William Wilberforce, Soapy Sam's father. So, for the serious Darwin history buff, there's a rub.
However, what follows is a presentation as CR as kind of schizophrenic John Nash who pursues his ghostly alter ego manifestation, his dead daughter, Annie, into a final confrontation with his own grief.
OK. We're not seeing documentary, I remind myself, we're seeing fictional biopic. So, we can let that part go. However, the scene where CR gives his ms of the On the Origin, to Emma and then the discretion to read or burn, stretches the point out proportion in my view.
Other points: little is made by CR's receiving Wallace's letter and paper on Natural Selection. Bettany's CR merely gives a somewhat cynical grin, dismissing this startling news with a "Gosh. I didn't need this ..." attitude. Lyell, alas, is completely written out of the script to give the Rev. Innes more screen time to press the point of a religious conflict that, according to received wisdom and well documented historical evidence, CR had long resolved in his own mind.
So, all and all: As an anthropologist and live-long Darwin scholar and fan, I'd give Creation a B- on the academic side based on what I perceive as a distortion of the relevant facts and evidence but certainly an A- on the quality of BBC historical drama. There's no doubt in the any of the biographers' works on CR that he and Emma were devastated by Annie's death by either typhus or diphtheria. However, to present the life and conflict of a man dedicated to the scientific method within a mystical light and framework, I found to be most discomforting.
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