Yesterday afternoon, I went to see "Creation", the new film out centred on Charles Darwin's relationships with his wife and his daughter, Annie. I guess I am in a unique position in writing this as I am sitting about two hundred yards from Montreal House in Malvern, where Annie died in 1851 and I live on land that was once part of the estate of the Lodge, the house in which Darwin and his family (including Annie) stayed for a few months in 1849.
But geographical proximity is not the real issue here--I have been far too close psychologically and intellectually to Darwin and his life, and Annie's role in it, for far too long to ever approach the movie as most viewers will. With that in mind, I was preparing to be disappointed, but in fact for the most part I enjoyed the movie, as did my children, because I remembered to tell myself that it was a work of imagination not historical biography.
There are lots of minor historical inaccuracies in the film, but as Eugenie Scott has pointed out, "Creation" will bring many aspects of Darwin's life, particularly his family life, to a wider audience, including the tragic loss of his daughter here in Malvern and the misery of his chronic illness. The acting is great, particularly Martha West as Annie and real husband and wife team Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly as Charles and Emma. And the lavish cinematography is a treat.
There were two things in the film I did not like. One was the way in which it flitted from one part of Darwin's life to another, back and forth across the decades. I would have preferred a simpler narrative. But more problematic was the way in which the film inter-linked Darwin's various struggles, intellectual and emotional, when as far as I am aware they were never linked. For example, there is no evidence that the death of Annie Darwin had any effect whatsoever on Darwin's work on the Origin of Species. And it is unclear to me whether differences in attitude to religion between Charles and Emma Darwin, which were clearly raised as an issue around the time of their marriage, persisted as a problem in their relationship as late as the film suggests, i.e. into the late 1850s. I may be wrong and will have to look into this, but the level of emotional intensity on Darwin's part in the film on this issue strikes me as off-kilter.
But all-in-all, a good film which I advise you to go and see! At the very least, it will banish the tired icon of Darwin as merely an old man with a bushy beard!