Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.
United Kingdom, 2009. Recorded Picture Company, BBC Films, HanWay Films, Ocean Pictures, UK Film Council. Screen story by Jon Amiel, John Collee, Screenplay by John Collee, based on the book Annie’s Box by Randal Keynes. Cinematography by Jess Hall. Produced by Jeremy Thomas. Music by Christopher Young. Production Design by Laurence Dorman. Costume Design by Louise Stjernsward. Film Editing by Melanie Oliver. Toronto International Film Festival 2009.
Haunted by the death of his eldest daughter and emotionally estranged from his religious wife (Jennifer Connelly), Charles Darwin (Paul Bettany) is working on what would become the most divisive and controversial book of the century but is unable to complete it. The Origin Of Species is a project that puts forth theories of evolution that contradict centuries of the western world’s belief in creation as described in the book of Genesis, and now this great thinker has to navigate the struggle between his conscience and his scientific skill: after all, it’s not every day you decide to kill God. Not that director Jon Amiel has a single clue as to how to present Darwin’s struggle; the film vacillates moodily between scenes of Bettany arguing with the ghost of his child and baffled by the impasse he has come to with his wife, with a few scenes of birth and death in the forest and a tiny subplot involving the world’s most endearing orangutan thrown in to make sure you don’t forget who the film is about. You can see a devoted attempt to create a tribute to science that backs up its revelations with enriching details of Darwin’s personal life, but his actual work and his relationships with his colleagues are relegated to a few minor scenes that are never resolved. What you have, in short, is a royal mess that never has any idea what kind of movie it wants to be, and never raises its emotional level above a gloomy hum: Bettany looks constipated for two hours and Connelly just looks angry, never successful at speaking with a convincing British accent. There’s something to be said for couples who are happy in real life not making good onscreen partners, the lack of competitive tension between them is going to show on screen, and by the film’s conclusion their differences are not solved but simply put aside out of sheer exhaustion. There are some lovely production values, but the prettiest moments are stolen from Jane Campion’s The Piano.