Beards. Monkeys. Evolution. This is what biology’s all about. So when looking for someone to play Charles Darwin, father of 10 (11 including modern thinking), Paul Bettany is the natural selection for the role. Shedding his scalp and wrestling with guilt, he’s evolved into a fine actor. He can generate chemistry with anything, from Orang-utans to absent loved ones. The only person his Charles doesn’t share sparks with is his wife, Emma (Connelly). She’s the religious one.
Torn apart by the loss of their daughter, Annie (West), Mr. and Mrs. Darwin’s marriage is a fossil. Barely talking for 10 years, the couple are split by Charles’ ongoing creation: On the Origin of Species, his 1859 theory that would defy God’s existence. Capable of shaking society and rebuking his wife’s religion, Charles is actually scared of what he wants to write. Tortured by his dilemma, and spurred on by fellow scientists (Jones and Cumberbatch), he is haunted by his daughter’s memory and the illness that killed her – what of survival of the fittest? This is no period romp; this is introverted, intelligent stuff.
Their family starts off happily enough. In the face of his wife’s faith, he raises their kids with his own ideals – she reads bedtime stories from the Bible, he tells them of un-evolved savages and sentient simians. Following in her father’s footsteps, 10 year old Annie is amazed by the world around her. She sees the food chain without fear, and questions creation at church. We could do without her ghost hanging around, but her bold curiosity and sunny smile are engaging – it’s easy to see why she’s Darwin’s favourite.
Alongside Martha West, Connelly is equally impressive; despite the lack of connection between the real-life couple, she is the perfect foil for Bettany’s bereaved boffin. From tense silence to tender reunion, their relationship is always convincing, carrying the film’s faintly contrived set-up with conviction. A decent bunch of supporting Brits adds to the believable context of Christian England, and the controversy Charles is about to cause.
Behind the camera, Jon Amiel’s subtle visuals range from classic costume drama to more adventurous CGI – we see a bird decompose in true David Attenborough style. It doesn’t always sit with the slow-burn screenplay (Creation almost feels like it lasts seven days), but the opening credits are quite breathtaking. At its worst, the result meanders along on four legs, but it gradually grows into a creature of impressive restraint. It will divide audiences, especially in America, but if Jesus saves, Creation definitely scores on the rebound.
Creation is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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