Based on the book Annie’s Box by the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin (ably portrayed here by Paul Bettany), Creation follows the naturalist as he writes his famous book On the Origin of Species. The story centres on Darwin’s struggle and depression after the death of his eldest daughter Annie (Martha West) from scarlet fever.
The film portrays the physical and mental effect that Annie’s death had on her father’s ideas about natural selection, showing a man tormented over his belief that he killed his daughter. This is compounded by the agonising decision he faces over the need to publish his scientific results and the effect that they will have upon belief in God and the creation of the universe.
This concern over the dividing nature of the work is one that is still relevant today — indeed, Creation has only now found a distributor willing to show the film in America, such was the animosity and controversy surrounding its release.
For all the controversy surrounding the film, its one failing could be its focus on the family life of Darwin rather than the events which led to one of the most important scientific discoveries in human history. Arguably one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time, it is 150 years since the publishing of On the Origin of Species.
Viewers could therefore be forgiven for expecting a film which charts the evolution of this great work of science from the voyage of HMS Beagle to its publication. It is a story that demands an entire film, and is neither fully explored nor explained in the 98 minutes of Creation.
Instead we are presented with a love story to the natural world which inspired Charles Darwin, and the family who supported and encouraged him. Images of life and death pepper the film with flashbacks to a younger, more carefree, Darwin. The scenes featuring the ghost of Annie are a little saccharine and distracting at times. However, the strong performance from Jennifer Connelly as Darwin’s devout and loyal wife Emma save this film
from falling into the trap of sentimentality, giving an intimate view into the life of a man tormented by his need to explore the world around him and the consequences of his actions.
With a solid supporting cast featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as Joseph Hooker and Toby Young, as the scientist Thomas Huxley determined to wage war on God, the film offers a glimpse into the man behind the theory.