For clarity “Creation” should have been subtitled, The Origin of The Origin of Species. Paul Bettany plays Charles Darwin, the English naturalist who revolutionized science with his theory that all species of life descended from common ancestors. We meet him in the years leading up to the publication of his groundbreaking work on natural selection, a work condemned by the church, and, closer to home, by Emma, his religious wife (Jennifer Connolly), who feared his ideas would separate them forever in the afterlife.
Based on the book “Annie’s Box” by Darwin’s great, great grandson, Randal Keynes “Creation” wipes away the popular image of Darwin as an old, bewhiskered scientist, bringing him to somewhat vivid life—he was plagued by sickness for much of his adult life—telling the story of the troubled evolution of his theory of evolution.
“Creation” is handsomely photographed, beautifully acted by real-life husband and wife Bettany and Connolly, wonderfully appointed with 1850s period details and just a bit dull. The story should be quite fascinating—between the death of his beloved daughter, his inner demons, his sicknesses and his scientific trailblazing Darwin’s life is not short of drama—but director Jon Amiel has a hard time balancing Darwin’s personal and professional lives. They are, of course, almost inextricably intertwined, but Amiel let’s the film get away from him in the middle section, placing too much emphasis on Darwin’s neuroses and not enough on the story.
Keeping things compelling, however, is Bettany who does impressive work, artfully and subtly portraying Darwin’s complicated inner life, drawing whatever emotion there is to be had out of this austere and slowly paced script.
Connolly, on the other hand, is as cold as ice as Darwin’s fiercely pious wife Emma. The expected warmth between the real-life couple is largely absent as Connolly completely disappears into the role of the hardnosed wife who put her religious values before her husband’s scientific beliefs.
Also worth noting is newcomer Martha West as daughter Annie, the common link who binds Charles and Emma together. Without fail her scenes bring the film warmth and familial energy.
“Creation” picks up in its final minutes, giving us a glimpse of the intelligent, exciting movie it could have been, but it’s too little to late.