Creation lacks intelligent design

Beautiful film devolves into wan romance

“So much beauty for so little purpose” states Charles Darwin (Paul Bettany) reminiscing upon the many natural wonders witnessed during his voyages aboard The Beagle . The statement could also be applied to Creation a film marketed as encapsulating the debates which arose with the publication of The Origin of Species and which rather ends up emulating the Gothic novels of its era. Under the battle cry “You’ve killed God sir” the film initially promises to show the predicaments of introducing the theory of evolution into a society founded on the idea of divine omnipotence but the screenplay quickly switches tactic and proffers a waning romance saddled by a ghost.

The inevitability of his book’s publication leaves Darwin’s personal struggle a moot point. Instead the death of Darwin’s favoured daughter Annie (Martha West) is used to propel dramatic tension. Employing a liberal number of flashbacks Creation wraps the production of Species in the rapid deterioration of the Darwin household as Charles withdraws into his study and his wife Emma (Jennifer Connelly) clings ever harder to her faith. Increasingly conflicted about writing a work which could reduce the world “to brute force” Darwin begins physically manifesting the stresses of his wife’s disapproval his scientific colleagues’ pressure to complete the manuscript and guilt over Annie’s death — in terms of survival of the fittest Annie is genetically condemned as Emma and Charles are first cousins. Darwin’s only comfort is telling stories to his daughter’s ghost. The opportunity to address some evolutionary controversy is squandered when ambushed by his wife Darwin is forced into a conversation with the vilified Reverend Innes (Jeremy Northam). Innes hurt by the scientist’s rebuttal of religious comfort broaches the subject of the seemingly innate and passionate emotions which underly most discussion of evolutionism versus creationism but this whole argument is reduced to one line of dialogue.

The film is beautifully shot the soft greens of the English countryside and the striking shores of the Galapagos enhancing otherwise standard period sets. As Darwin sinks further into the illusory consolation of his daughter’s ghost nature’s splendour is replaced with Gothic tropes horrific images of death and decay eerily evocative of a 17th century Flanders still-life. Bettany’s Darwin riddled by an unrelenting grief over both child and faith is captivating. Admittedly Connelly is given a one-note role as the Devil’s — or God’s — advocate but she bypasses the opportunities of playing a mother whose husband has abandoned her in the responsibilities of raising a mourning brood instead casting about the furrowed brow of a women scorned. West’s Annie is enchanting and understandably haunting: endearingly inquisitive in life and the embodiment of a child yearning to heal her father’s wounds in death.

Though the savage heartaches of Creation are wondrously conveyed they are weighed down with the wasted potential of the film’s subject matter. When being an evolutionist can still hinder a border crossing a film about The Origin of Species should not be misspent on sentiment.