Dave here, with a bit of a sneak peek of sorts. Conveniently enough, news came today that Charles Darwin biopic Creation, which had been said to be without a distributor, has been picked up by Newmarket for a December release in the US - a company that, as everyone and their mother has already pointed out, is most famous for releasing The Passion of the Christ. A December release suggests they're going for the awards on this one - but hold your horses. The British release date was today, and, like a good little film scholar, I went along to the first screening at my cinema to check it out.
Of course awards don't necessarily equal quality all of the time, and vice versa, so for all I know Creation could still be in with some kind of shot, but on initial impressions it looks doubtful. It's a competent, polished production, but that's about the best I can say for it. It's a bit dry. It's generally unilluminating. It's slightly cloying. Most of all, it seems rather misguided. It was no surprise to learn, as the credits rolled up, that it was based on a book called 'Annie's Box' by Randal Keyes (Darwin's great-great grandson). For the film, posited in the trailers as mainly a religion versus evolution debate filtered through Darwin and his wife Emma, is actually mainly concerned with the spectre of the Darwins' dead daughter Annie. This adds very little to the subject at hand, and the only thing that stops this dominating aspect of the film from being a complete disaster is the charming performance from young Martha West (daughter of The Wire's Dominic West, trivia fiends).
Ariane Sherine's recent article in The Guardian points out the film's Hollywoodized flaws but is ultimately full of praise for the fact that it "contains one of the most robust defences of atheism and agnosticism ever to appear in a mainstream film". It has to be said that the parts of the film that draw most strongly on this are the film's more interesting passages. Jennifer Connelly, as ever, has little to do but cry and look pained (please, for the love of Darwin, someone give her something different to do), and Sherine perhaps goes a bit too far when she suggests that "Emma is a complex yet ultimately sympathetic God-botherer", but the struggle between Emma and her husband still provides the more intriguing drama here. Not hard, since the effect of Darwin's work on the society it was released into isn't explored at all (the film sticks closely to the Darwin family), and even the work itself is just about skimmed-over. It's a film that tackles both religion and perhaps the most important scientific document ever written, but without really looking them in the face. In the grand old Hollywood tradition, it's easier, and less controversial, to filter it through slightly histrionic familial drama. Throughout, there's that niggling thought that the topic should be tackled with more guts, more impact. But, in the end, they need it to sell.
But enough ranting against the industry. This is an Oscar-obsessive's blog, so my final words will be on that subject. Beyond Christopher Young's immensely classical score (so much so I wondered if it weren't simply selections from the 19th Century), I'd say any hopes here rest with Paul Bettany. He's really quite good, and it's fantastic to see him back in a role that demands from him, and, moreover, that he delivers in. Darwin's struggle between a lingering faith, his love for his religious wife and his conviction in his revolutionary work seems more delicately painted thanks to Bettany's subtle, shifting performance. You understand Darwin, you like him, and most importantly you sympathize with his dilemma - and this is from a person coming at it as probably more of an atheist than Darwin himself was. Bettany's natural chemistry with real-life spouse Connelly, and the charming rapport with Martha West, make the drama believable, and the time passes in a pleasant way, but there's nothing remarkable, nothing memorable about this. It just exists.