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British Cinema, Melodrama

Creation (UK 2009)

Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany

Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany

I enjoyed Creation, the new film released to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s On The Origin of Species, much more than I expected. I was attracted to it by Philip French’s intelligent and knowledgable review in the Observer. But as soon as I began to read other comments on IMDB and other sites, I quickly became distressed by the range of reactions to it.

French suggests that the film is mistitled – promising more, and less, than is actually delivered. On reflection he is probably right. This isn’t a long polemic or a science lecture on a sensational scale. It isn’t ‘epic’ at all (which some viewers seem to expect). French argues that it isn’t like the old Warner Bros. biopics. I bow to his greater recall but it did make me think of some traditional biopics in that it is more of a family melodrama than a scientific narrative. What seems to have angered several viewers is the complex time shifting which leaps backwards and forwards, primarily in relation to the strong relationship between Darwin and his daughter Annie. She died aged 10 and her death troubled Darwin greatly. She reappears in his thoughts and it isn’t clear when she is alive and when she is just a memory.

Yes, I did get confused – but that didn’t bother me. Why should it? The film is scripted by Randall Keynes – a descendant of both Darwin and John Maynard Keynes – and uses his account of Annie’s Box (the memories and artefacts that Darwin associated with her). There are sequences seemingly filmed like a BBC wildlife series to illustrate some of Darwin’s ideas, but mainly the focus is on Darwin’s struggle with illness, exhaustion and a crisis of conscience, worries about Annie and guilt that his wife would suffer, both from his neglect and the possible attack on her Christian values.

The expected criticism of the film is also that it looks like a BBC classic serial. Well, it never looked particularly ‘televisual’ to me. Instead I enjoyed a CinemaScope movie appropriate for a big screen. It seems incredible that half the population of the US, if the figures are to be believed, would find this film offensive because they believe in literal readings of the Bible. I don’t really see how anyone could find offence in the film (or believe that God created the world in seven days) but there you go. Unfortunately, the UK audience has either lost its marbles and thinks it would be offended as well or else it is bored with Darwin celebrations already. Either way, a decent film is failing to attract large audiences and taking less than £1000 per screen on the first week of release. My guess is that its real audience is waiting for a TV screening – a shame I think.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “Creation (UK 2009)

  1. I too was appalled by the bad reviews, considering how good the premise sounds… Waiting for this one…

    Posted by Just Another Film Buff | October 5, 2009, 17:28
  2. I think the comments about the film’s style and use of Annie’s Box was good. But I did think that the actual treatment of The Origin of the Species felt like an add-on.There has been an earlier film that treats the Beagle voyage, but I thought there was more scope for using this part of the story. And the actual writing reminded me of the approach of Doctor Zhivago, the film seemed more interested in family melodrama than science. Possibly understandable but a shame.
    I assume the title of the film was a play on religion and authorship. But that made me feel that the film was trying to have it both ways.
    As for the US audience, it would appear that they don’t understand Evolution, Socialism or the NHS. I do sympathise with the UK audience, because I don’t think the family drama in the film is strong enough on its own, but the film does not really enlighten viewers on the development of Darwin’s theory and analysis.

    Posted by keith1942 | October 14, 2009, 14:34

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