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.