2009 is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwins’s 'On the Origin of Species'. Jon Amiel begins his film Creation with the note that what we are about to see is the story of how that hugely influential work came into existence. But as the film plays out it offers precious few insights into the kinds of thoughts and research that led Darwin to form his theories, and despite suggesting otherwise, fails to engage at all with the debates of faith and science that Darwin’s book continues to provoke today.
Darwin and his wife Emma are introduced as being united despite essential differences in their worldviews – he is a man of science, she a woman of deep faith – and near the beginning of the film we hear a violent assertion from Darwin’s colleague Huxley (a fleeting appearance from the great Toby Jones) that “you have killed God”. But Amiel and screenwriter John Collee consistently shy away from engaging with these ideas, instead focusing on Darwin’s failure to get over the death of his daughter Annie, and how this affected his efforts to publish his seminal work.
Amiel’s decision to tell a story of the heart rather than the mind would be fine, if it weren’t for the fact that his film moves at such a sloth-like pace. For a story whose central character is fascinated by the origins of life, Creation is curiously lifeless, containing no scenes that convey any of the excitement or enthusiasm that Darwin surely felt for his subject. Amiel insists on keeping the mood sombre, determined to make us feel the weight of Darwin’s suffering, but to no discernable end; it is no great revelation to be told that Charles Darwin felt loss as any of us would.
Paul Bettany delivers a characteristically excellent performance as Darwin, but his real-life wife Jennifer Connelly is given little to do except look glum as Emma. File Creation under ‘wasted opportunites’.
Creation is released on 25th September.