Starring Paul Bettany, Jennifer Connelly, and Jeremy Northam
Paul Bettany stars as Charles Darwin, the author of On the Origin of Species. This story is based on a book by one of Darwin's descendants which in turn is based on the memories of Darwin's children. This fictional look at Darwin's life shows him as a middle-aged man, haunted by the memory of his 10-year-old daughter Annie, estranged from his wife and children, violently ill and struggling to continue his life's work. Darwin is also tormented by inner doubts about the existence of God. No one understands his pain more than Annie. She's always there by his side (even after death) to calm him and to push him on. The story flashes back to Darwin's happier days as a father of a growing family and his fascination with scientific theory.
Then flash forward back to the "present." He doesn't speak to his beloved wife Emma, who is deeply religious and also mourning the loss of their eldest daughter. Darwin wonders whether to give up his research or continue on. There will be severe reactions from his peers either way. His friends are urging him to publish, his enemies are accusing him of killing God and Darwin just can't deal with all the pressure. Finally, Darwin gains the courage he needs to face his future.
This movie is a nice piece of cinema. I liked the way it was filmed: moving in and out of the present, back to the past, to Darwin's memories and his fantasies. The make-up is excellent and the acting, by real-life husband and wife Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly is superb. They have an easy relationship with each other and with the youngsters who play the Darwin children. I can easily believe they are a family. Paul Bettany is amazing as the conflicted Darwin and Martha West who plays Annie, is the right amount of spunk and sweetness without being overly precocious and annoying. The orangutan Jenny is stellar and it's easy to see why Darwin was fascinated with great apes watching her. I especially liked the stories of Darwin's travels and early research that are interwoven into the story. I also loved when the dialogue was taken from real diaries and letters written by Charles Darwin. Victorian language is so beautiful and expressive.
I haven't read the book the movie was based and I don't know much about Darwin so I'll just review the movie as a story, I found the movie intriguing. It gives a good sense of the struggles Darwin had to deal with while working out his theories. However, the movie moves so slowly that I don't think it would hold the interest of most people. It would work better as a play. The strength of this movie really lies in the cinematography and the acting.
The DVD features director's commentary, a "Making Of" feature and several discussions on topics relating to Darwin's life and works as well as debates about creationism vs. Darwinism.
For more on Charles Darwin, see my reviews of The True Adventures of Charley Darwin and my review of Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith