Paul Bettany plays a tormented Charles Darwin. Stricken by a mixture of grief and misplaced guilt over the death of his beloved daughter Annie (Martha West) the scientist we meet is one languishing in intellectual limbo, a frustrated genius on the cusp of greatness unable to complete his theory of evolution.
What if mankind was a product of nature as opposed to the supreme creator? Such a radical idea could kill God and shake the very foundations of Victorian society - exactly what Darwin’s devout wife Emma (Jennifer Connelly) fears most. Trapped in a prison of melancholia, with family life slowly disintegrating around them, the scene is set for some major soul searching on the part of husband and wife. It would seem the death of dear little Annie is the source of all discord chez Darwin – bring on the catharsis!
Those expecting an all-encompassing biopic will be sorely disappointed here, there’s no grand elucidation of Darwin’s ideas or coverage of his post-publication academic battles; Creation is light on science but big on heart and is all the better for it.
The Dickensian conceit which sees the laudanum addled Charles visited by the “ghost” of his deceased child had the potential drown the piece in a mire of mawkish sentimentality but Jon Amiel’s deft direction and the quality of his cast ensures the right tone is struck throughout. Taking a deeply personal incident in the life of Darwin and using it as a thematic microcosm for the exploration of faith vs. reason works exceedingly well.
Amiel has crafted an invigorating period piece - stuffy and sedate Creation most certainly is not. From the inspired title sequence to a scene illustrating the natural cycle of life and death throughtime lapse photography; visually it’s a treat.
The film’s handsome aesthetic is complemented by some fine casting too. Bettany delivers a wonderfully nuanced central performance and when made up bears quite the resemblance to the great scientist. Scenes shared with his real-life wife Jennifer Connelly are a joy to behold, one would expect no less from two accomplished actors already in an off-screen relationship.
In fact the acting is note perfect from all quarters thanks to the efforts of a strong supporting cast comprised of British stalwarts such as Jim Carter and Jeremy Northam. Newcomer Martha West also delivers a promising turn as Annie Darwin, the tragic eldest daughter of Charles and emotional pivot upon which the story turns.
Creation is a simple story gracefully told. Boasting exquisite performances, beautiful production design and a fine script – it’s the panacea to a summer of soulless CGI and ham-fisted franchise reboots.