'Creation' a melodramatic look at Darwin’s life 

Charles Darwin – grieving father, conflicted husband, and (further down on this movie's priority list) author of the book that lastingly changed our understanding of how life came to be  – gets due but wrongheaded big-screen treatment in "Creation." 

The biopic mires the father of evolutionary biology in domestic melodrama and uses cliched scenarios to depict his struggles for truth.

Directed by Jon Amiel and based on the book "Annie's Box" by Randal Keyes, the story centers on the battle of religion and science, especially as it unfolds in the relationship of the increasingly nonbelieving Charles Darwin (Paul Bettany) and his devoutly Christian wife, Emma (Jennifer Connelly), as Darwin writes "On the Origin of Species."

Published in 1859, the landmark book focuses, of course, on natural selection. "You've killed God," fellow scientist Huxley (Toby Jones) tells Darwin.

Bettany portrays both the life-embracing young Darwin, who delights 9-year-old daughter Annie (Martha West) with colorful stories about nature, and a middle-aged Darwin grief-sick over Annie's death.

The older Darwin sees Annie in apparition form. He also agonizes over whether to complete his book, whose publication, he realizes, would derail church-based Victorian society and shatter Emma.

For sure, in a current landscape where appalling numbers of people are still teaching their kids that the earth is only about 2,500 years older than King Tut, a biopic about Darwin is welcome.

And thanks to some unexpected ingredients supplied by Amiel, whose brighter credits include episodes of the "Singing Detective" miniseries, the film isn't mere stodgy period drama.

A time-lapse depiction of the fate of a hapless baby bird gruesomely illustrates nature's ravages. A passage featuring Darwin bonding with an orangutan, kooky though it may sound, is rather touching.

But elsewhere, Amiel defies credibility, and John Collee's screenplay, though not entirely trite, upstages the science with dreary romantic material, drawn-out Annie tragedy, and stock loss-of-faith dramatics.

As for Darwin's theories, you won't likely learn anything new or gain insight into the mind behind them.

Bettany, who played a Darwin-like character in the Collee-scripted "Master and Commander" and outshone Russell Crowe, is impressive as Darwin and charismatic enough to engage us. But he gets little chance to convey the exhilaration of science with much spark.

Connelly's Emma, shortchanged by the screenplay, is a joyless presence.

Along with Jones, noteworthy supporting players include Benedict Cumberbatch as scientist Hooker, Jeremy Northam as pastor Innes, and a talented orangutan.



Two and a half stars

Starring Paul Bettany, Jennifer Connelly, Toby Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch
Written by John Collee
Directed by Jon Amiel
Rated PG-13
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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