Cast: Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind), Jeremy Northam (Gosford Park), Paul Bettany (The Da Vinci Code), Toby Jones (Infamous)
Director: Jon Amiel
Run time: 108 minutes
From Jeremy Thomas' Recorded Picture Company, producer of such films as nine-time Academy Award ® winner The Last Emperor and Sexy Beast, comes CREATION.
CREATION is the powerful story of Charles Darwin and the single most explosive idea in history. Directed by Jon Amiel (The Core, Entrapment, Copycat, Sommersby) from a screenplay by John Collee (Master and the Commander: The Far Side of the World, Happy Feet), CREATION is based upon Randal Keynes' book, 'Annie's Box', about the life of his great great grandfather, the world's pre-eminent scientist, Charles Darwin.
Charles Darwin is played by acclaimed British actor Paul Bettany (Inkheart, The Da Vinci Code, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, A Beautiful Mind), and his wife Emma Darwin is played by his real-life partner, Academy Award ® winner Jennifer Connelly (The Day the Earth Stood Still, Blood Diamond, A Beautiful Mind, Requiem For a Dream).
They are joined on screen by British stalwarts Jeremy Northam (Dean Spanley, Gosford Park), Toby Jones (Frost/Nixon, W, Infamous) and Benedict Cumberbatch (The Other Boleyn Girl, Atonement, Amazing Grace). Martha West makes her feature film debut in the pivotal role of Annie Darwin.
Charles Darwin's great, still controversial, book 'On the Origin of Species' depicts nature as a battleground. In CREATION the battleground is a man's heart. Torn between his love for his deeply religious wife and his own growing belief in a world where God has no place, Darwin finds himself caught in a struggle between faith and reason, love and truth. This is not the grey-bearded old man that most imagine when they think of Charles Darwin. The Darwin we meet in CREATION is a young, vibrant father, husband, and friend, whose mental and physical health gradually buckles under the weight of guilt and grief for a lost child.
Ultimately it is the ghost of Annie, his adored ten-year-old daughter, who leads Charles Darwin out of darkness to reconnect with his wife and family. Only then is he able to create the book that changed the world. Told in a dazzling collage of scenes from the past and present, laced with stories of exotic animals and the dark dreams of a troubled mind CREATION is a film that will provoke, entertain and ultimately deeply move you.
No single researcher since Charles Darwin has matched his bearing on the natural and social sciences, from his theories of evolution and their impact on religion and politics through to cultural relations and philosophy. Over 125 years since his death, his work is still an inspiration in a world that continues to be shaped by his ideas.
The world will be celebrating Charles Darwin in 2009, the year marking the bicentenary of his birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his most famous work, 'On the Origin of Species - By Means of Natural Selection'. This was an explosive book published at a time when church underpinned society and Man was believed to be God's separate and most precious creation. It proposed a logical explanation for the diversity of species including the evolution of man, and was to forever change the way we view mankind and our place in the world, sparking controversy and debate that still rages today, even with the scientific evidence that now exists, such as DNA research and genetics.
2009 also marks the 50th anniversary of the Galapagos National Park. Darwin spent five weeks during his voyage as a naturalist on the H.M.S. Beagle visiting the archipelago of volcanic islands off the coast of Ecuador. The observations and findings he made there shaped his ideas and set the foundations for the theory of evolution he would work on for more than 20 years.
CREATION was co-developed with BBC Films and the UK Film Council. The worldwide sales agent is HanWay Films.
Charles Darwin is a handsome man in his early forties who lives a quiet life in an idyllic English village. He is a brilliant and deeply emotional man, devoted to his wife and children, but clearly distanced from them. When we first meet the family, the void between Charles Darwin and his wife Emma seems to engulf the children. Their chaotic house is full of shadows and secrets.
Only when Charles Darwin retreats to his study and begins to discuss his day with his daughter Annie, a precocious and inquisitive ten year old, do we see him come to life. But when Emma comes in to find Darwin alone, we realise he has been talking to a ghost. Not an apparition, but the vibrant spirit of Darwin's favourite child who died several years earlier.
The story moves back and forth through Annie's short life and the years following her death. Not only does a portrait of a deeply connected father-daughter relationship emerge, so does Charles Darwin's magnificent theory. Annie's death sharpens Darwin's conviction that natural laws have nothing to do with divine intervention. To his contemporaries, this is an idea so dangerous it seems to threaten the existence of God. In a box in Charles Darwin's study, we discover the manuscript of 'On The Origin Of Species'.
Charles Darwin makes a poignant pilgrimage to the hotel in Malvern where Annie died whilst receiving treatment. The journey marks a change in him, and he is finally able to share his grief with Emma. The couple reconnect at last. Emma is both shocked by her husband's views and in love all over again with his passion and intellect. Darwin decides that Emma must make the decision about publishing his work. After reading the manuscript, she quietly returns it to him addressed to a publisher in London. For both of the Darwins, love takes priority over belief.
Charles Darwin walks down the lane, holding the package. The postman arrives. Darwin falters, almost letting him go empty-handed. The postman rides away, unaware of the time-bomb he's carrying out into the world. As Darwin walks home, a little girl skips happily alongside him.
FROM PAGE TO SCREEN
His love for his wife, his observations of his children, his friendships with gardeners, schoolteachers and pigeon fanciers, his fears about death, revolution, bankruptcy, inbreeding... all these things found their way into his theory.He was the most inclusive of thinkers.
Randal Keynes, 'Annie's Box'
The idea for CREATION first sprang to life when screenwriter John Collee mentioned to his friend, director Jon Amiel, a book he had read called 'Annie's Box'. Written by Randal Keynes about his great great grandfather Charles Darwin, it is a personal account of the renowned Victorian scientist. Amiel was similarly inspired by this story of a family man who deeply loved his children, who cared passionately about his religious wife and potentially destroying a society built on the foundations of the church, that he delayed publishing what was to be the most explosive idea in history.
For Collee, the book "Is extraordinary. It's a picture of a man trying to live a creative life with his family swirling around him, there's politics, there's religion, it's 'of the moment'. What interested me was what he suffered along the way to finally achieve an aura of unassailable gravitas. He was deeply in love with a woman who disagreed profoundly with his theory. He cherished his children and saw three of them die. He suffered horribly from a lifelong illness that may or may not have been psychosomatic. He studied to be a parson and wrote the book which killed God. I wanted to write about this man."
Together, Amiel and Collee knew they wanted to bring the relatively unknown story of who Charles Darwin was as a man to the big screen. Darwin's career spanned fifty of his seventy-three years, and as they did not want to make a conventional biopic, they knew they needed to focus on a particular period in his life. Randal Keynes' biography gave them the heart of the script; that Charles Darwin's work and his family life were inseparable.
As Amiel explains, "We wanted to make a film that was an intense visual and emotional journey through the heart of darkness of this man. We decided very quickly that the ghost of his dead daughter Annie, who died when she was ten, would be an important character. We decided to tell the story in a non-linear way, moving rapidly between past and present, between fantasy and reality, between nightmare and anecdote. Once we had these ideas, I became passionate about Charles Darwin's story because I could see a way of telling a story about a man that deeply, deeply interested and moved me."
In many ways, Darwin's life was shaped by loss, from the early demise of his mother, to the deaths of three of his young children, and the gradual loss of his religious faith. It was decided the focus of the film would be the time in his life when he lost his beloved daughter Annie, through to his struggle to write his seminal work 'On the Origin of Species'. This book set out Darwin's theory that man was the product of nature and evolution rather than God. It was to have an immeasurable impact on science, religion, politics and society from the moment it was published in 1859. It is Darwin's most famous book and has never gone out of print.
Amiel took the project to Recorded Picture Company, the British independent production company owned by esteemed Academy Award ® winning producer Jeremy Thomas. The unconventional approach with which Amiel and Collee proposed telling the story of Charles Darwin and his explosive idea greatly appealed to Thomas. This led to him optioning Randal Keynes' book and commissioning Collee to write a screenplay.
As Thomas recounts, "It's a combination of the story, which works very much on an emotional level when you know who and what is significant to Charles Darwin. Secondly he's writing a book, arguably the greatest story ever told, and nobody can deny it's one of the most important pieces of writing ever written. The book he wrote is still vital today, which is extraordinary to me, that it continues on as a controversial item. It was combination of thoughts, and the belief that Jon Amiel could make a wonderful film. I thought it could be a very moving and emotional film, but also interesting."
As author Randal Keynes recalls when he was asked to discuss taking his book 'Annie's Box' from page to screen, "I met with John Collee, Jon Amiel and Jeremy Thomas and was excited at once when I realised how good a company RPC is, and their filmmaking standards. Then I realised John had written the script for Master and Commander, a wonderful film with a proto-Darwin figure as the ship's doctor, who plays an important part. It was obvious that this was going to be a very special film, carefully authentic but also, I think most importantly, imaginative."
CREATION is not only a film about a man of science it is about a family. It is about how a family survives huge loss and the reverberations of this on the foundations of a marriage. It is about how a man unable to cope with the death of his daughter finds himself unable to write his ground-breaking theories for fear of causing his wife pain and destroying the God she so fervently believes in. It is about a man so racked with anxiety over his work that he suffers years of pain with mysterious bouts of illness.
As Thomas reveals, "John Collee's compelling script tells the remarkable story behind Darwin's revolutionary theory, and the foundation of a book that changed the world. We think of Darwin as an old man with a grey beard, but the reality of our story is very different. In CREATION the Darwin we see is a troubled character who knows his ideas will trigger a profound change of balance in the status quo, and it makes him ill."
For Keynes, the deftness of Collee's screenwriting talent in adapting his biographical material to create the story we see on screen gave new life to the story of his great great grandfather, "When I read the script, I expected it to wander off the path of absolute historical truth in one or two places, and I was happy for it to do so because this enables the scriptwriter, director and producer to make more of the film than can be evidenced from surviving documents and other material. They had a freedom that I did not have when I wrote my factual biography. They made very good use of it because they brought out truths about Darwin, Emma, Hooker and the whole story, that I could only imagine, that I could only guess at."
FROM CASTING TO DESIGN
From the outset, the filmmakers knew they wanted British actor Paul Bettany to play Charles Darwin. Our most familiar image of Darwin is of a balding old man with a long grey beard, but the film captures him in middle age after the loss of his adored ten-year-old daughter, Annie. In the years following her untimely death, Darwin was left bereft and struggling with his faith. This inner turmoil, along with his inability to put pen to paper and write his manuscript on the evolution of species for fear of destroying his marriage, all conspired to make him ill.
An intelligent actor was required to take on this complex role, and as Jon Amiel says, "Arriving at Paul Bettany was really easy. There was almost nobody else that I could conceive of playing this role. Paul is perfect, he's perfect because he's English, and physically the most like Charles Darwin that you could possibly imagine. He's very tall, skinny, has a high receding forehead, light sandy colouring and this made him perfect. But above all else, to me, what Paul has in addition to all his incredible acting skills and ability to enter characters, is intelligence. Paul is a very, very intelligent man and brings to the role an effortless, piercing, luminous intelligence that makes him absolutely peerless in this role. "
For Paul Bettany, Darwin was the role of a lifetime, "Darwin's a bit of a hero of mine. I think he was an extraordinarily brave human being. I like the idea of a person who is a social conservative having this revolutionary idea, and once he sees it he cannot stop seeing it, and he feels that everywhere he looks there is proof. I found that really interesting."
It was a wonderful gift to the film when Jennifer Connelly, Academy Award ® winning actress and Paul Bettany's wife in real life, expressed interest in playing Charles Darwin's wife, Emma Wedgwood, his first cousin, a cultivated and religious woman. Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly had been looking for a project to work on together for some time.
As Amiel recalls, "It was obvious to me and to everybody else that Jennifer Connelly would be wonderful casting as Emma, she has tremendous intelligence and the sense of an inner life. Emma was a great linguist, she spoke French and Italian fluently, as does Jennifer. Emma was a concert level pianist who studied under Chopin. Jennifer couldn't play a lick on the piano, but by golly she worked so hard. She will totally convince you as she convinced me, and I can play the piano, that she's playing one of Chopin's most difficult virtuoso pieces."
Jennifer Connelly's research in to the woman Charles Darwin was married to for forty-four years and had ten children with unveiled an intelligent and complex woman. She describes Emma Darwin thus, "Emma was well-educated, she played piano beautifully, she travelled extensively in her youth and lived in Paris, and she spoke other languages. She was very intelligent, and from all accounts seems to have been a pretty extraordinary mother. I read about how the kids would just run about the house everywhere and she really had no issue with that. She had incredible tolerance for that sort of chaos, and Charles did as well. And a huge component of her character of course was her religion. She was devoutly religious, which put her at odds with Darwin's emerging beliefs."
Casting a real-life husband and wife made the usual rehearsals to encourage a sense of intimacy in an onscreen marriage unnecessary. Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly naturally have this physicality and absent-minded closeness, as subtly conveyed by their body language. For Amiel, "Paul and Jennifer brought that sense of knowing each other, that sense of intimacy immediately, it was there. They really do bring an effortless sense of a married-ness to every scene, and that is an enormous bonus."
As Jennifer Connelly says, "Paul was set to play Charles and I thought it was an incredible part and the script was very well-written. I thought it was really interesting to discover many things about Charles Darwin that I had not known before, such as about his family life and his relationship with his wife. It's an extraordinary story and I loved the idea of being in it and watching my husband playing Charles Darwin and being married to his character."
The highest accolade the filmmakers could have hoped for in the casting of Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly comes from Randal Keynes, author of 'Annie's Box' and a direct descendent of Charles Darwin, "I find that Paul Bettany is a perfect Darwin. Jennifer Connelly a perfect Emma. That they should be married gives them I think a special relationship that was evident in the scenes I've seen being filmed. Hooker and Huxley and the others are all perfect. And that is, I think, quite extraordinary for a film, and I can only say thank you to them."
Paul Bettany's physical transformation from a 21st century man to a middle-aged Victorian required the expertise of hair and make-up and costume designers. For make-up and hair designer Veronica McAleer, "I actually think Paul uncannily looks a bit like Darwin; not at first sight, but I helped towards this by shaving his head because Darwin even as a young man had a receded hairline. Then, as Darwin got older, he was very receded. It's a big character make-up; the transition between being younger and quite healthy, then getting older, losing his daughter, losing his hair, and becoming a more introverted person."
Costume designer Louise Stjernsward's subtle use of cut and colour mirror the feelings of the characters, particularly Charles and Emma Darwin, "I read in a book early on that when Darwin was at Cambridge he would go out and have fun, so he was quite dapper. In the early part of the film, he's colourful and smarter. As he gets ill and worried after Annie's death, as he gets older and hunches, the clothes become darker, it's a darker mood, a darker period in his life, as well as for Emma. You'll also notice her clothes becoming more restrained and restricted."
Amiel wanted to make a film that would not automatically be classed as a period film. The emphasis was to be more on the story of a man in turmoil that can be related to any point in time, including today. Along with the colour palettes of production design, hair and make up, and costume, the lighting and camerawork would influence the mood of the film.
As director of photography Jess Hall explains, "Jon made it very clear from the beginning that he wasn't interested in making a "period" film, and this was something I latched onto very quickly. He still wanted a certain elegance, and he didn't want to shy away from good looking photography. It was a matter of finding a middle ground. We wanted to bring these elements into the film in a subtle way, and we decided we would to do this with a moving camera. This was something we definitely focused on. We were going for simple lighting strategies that were aesthetic, not an over prettification of the image."
The crucial casting of Charles and Emma's ten year old daughter Annie led to a unknown young actress making her on-screen debut in CREATION. Martha West discovered her love of acting when she began performing in school plays whilst attending the drama club at her school in South West London. She turned ten years old during filming.
Jon Amiel and casting director Celestia Fox auditioned many young girls in their search for Annie. Amiel recollects, "When I saw Martha, who has an almost ethereal beauty, just exquisitely lovely, I thought, 'She's too pretty, she's too fine, fragile'. And yet the more I worked with her, the more I realised that she alone, of all the girls I met, made me feel what I wanted Annie to make an audience feel. A sense of courage, openness, emotional transparency, intelligence, all so important in this girl, and so hard to fake in a young actor. Martha had all of this. She has an extraordinary ability to learn and adapt. She had never made a film before, but I saw in her a willingness to learn, a capacity to learn quickly, and a willingness to confront things that scared her."
With a plethora of animals on set during filming which Annie needed to handle, including beetles, it helped that Martha was not nervous of nature. As she says, "I don't think it would be very good if I were squeamish because Annie's the opposite of that. She loves being outside all the time and helping her Dad with all the fossils, and she's never the kind of person who'd go, 'Ugh!' "
Of the ten Darwin children, we see Annie, Etty, George, Franky and Lenny on-screen along with a pregnant Emma. The Darwins are joined by respected British actor Jeremy Northam, who plays a family friend and member of the church, Reverend Innes. At one time, Innes was Darwin's close friend and they shared an interest in nature, but their relationship became strained due to Innes' belief in creationism, whereby man is God's special and separate creation, contradicting Darwin's growing belief that the evolution of mankind is inseparable from the living world.
Northam says, "Reverend Innes is well-meaning and passionate about what he believes, wanting life to be seen in terms of harmony and of balance rather than discord and opposition. What Charles posits in his theory challenges Innes' opinion, and he is not in a position to refute or answer the argument that Charles eventually arrives at."
Charles Darwin's fellow scientists, who push him to publish his work, are played by the chameleon of stage and screen Toby Jones, as the biologist Thomas Huxley, and rising star Benedict Cumberbatch as Darwin's lifelong colleague and closest friend, the botanist Joseph Hooker.
Joseph Hooker shared Darwin's passion for natural history, and was to become one of the most important botanists of his time. He helped Darwin greatly in his work, championing him and encouraging him to publish his theory. Cumberbatch describes their relationship, "Joseph Hooker was a specialist in botany, an area that Darwin wasn't as competent in, and they got on incredibly well. Their conversations were really important in his life, and they became very firm friends. Hooker was as progressive as Darwin in both scientific ideas and in general life philosophy. He got on famously with the family and the children were very, very fond of him."
Toby Jones was attracted to play Thomas Huxley by the script, which he read in one sitting. As he explains, "One of the most effective things is that the idea of evolution is in every scene, and the idea of people and situations changing is so integral to the story. It's everywhere, and as a visual idea as well. It's fantastic. I find it very satisfying, the wildlife sequences where one creature eats something else, which is eaten by something else, which is eaten by something else, and so on in a chain. Rather than a biopic, it feels more like an exploration of the idea of evolution, and also of how relationships evolve."
The principal cast are supported by a stellar ensemble of actors. Jim Carter plays Darwin's manservant Parslow, Ellie Haddington plays the children's Scottish nanny Brodie, and Teresa Churcher is the Darwin's housekeeper, Mrs Davies. Bill Patterson plays Darwin's Malvern based hydrotherapist Dr Gully, and Robert Glenister is Dr Holland, the family doctor.
We have lost the joy of the household, and the solace of our old age: she must have known how we loved her; oh that she could now know how deeply, how tenderly we do still, and shall ever love her dear joyous face. Blessings on her.' Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin was Randal Keynes great great grandfather. His grandmother Margaret, was the daughter of George, the second son of Charles and Emma Darwin. His grandmother often told him as a young child about Down House where she had visited her grandparents as a child. As Randal Keynes recalls, "I learnt later that Darwin, her grandfather, was famous. She told me of her memories of coming to the house after he had died, when old Mrs Darwin was living here in her fourteen years of widowhood. My grandmother told me about the house and her grandmother, and this gave me a very special feeling of personal closeness to the great man, his wife and their granddaughter."
In 1842, Charles and Emma moved from London to the Kent countryside with their two children, elder son William and their younger daughter Ann, known as Annie. Their new family home was Down House in Downe Village, near Bromley. This was where they brought up their ever-expanding brood of children and spent their final days many years later. The house and gardens at Down became Darwin's laboratory, where he filled numerous notebooks with his observations, forming the foundations of his books, including 'On the Origin of Species'. At Down, Darwin studied the nature around him and conducted experiments. He bred pigeons and grew orchids, alongside other such pursuits of nature in his grounds and the surrounding countryside, all of which informed his work.
Randal Keynes says, "I am deeply proud of my great great grandfather, I admire him greatly. I think he's a very attractive and interesting person and I like spending time with him in the sense of reading his books, his letters, his papers, and spending time at Down House. I'm very, very lucky to have this sense of Darwin as a real person. I'm very happy to talk to others about what it is to be a descendant of Darwin, because I hope this gives people an understanding of Darwin as flesh and blood. I think this will help us all to understand his ideas and their value."
It is known that Darwin worked long hours in his study but that he always made time for his family, who were of the utmost importance to him. Chales Darwin and Emma brought up their children quite differently to some of their Victorian peers, who believed children should be seen and not heard. Their children had freedom and ran amok in the house and grounds. Darwin did not conform to the stereotype of a stern and distant father. He talked to his children, involving them in his work in different ways, such as looking at scientific books and talking through the illustrations, as well as exploring nature and playing games together. He studied his own children as part of his work, including noting and comparing their expressions to animals. As Paul Bettany says, "It may sound dry and scientific, but of course science was not dry to him. It was his biggest love, so it entirely melded in his concentration on his children."
Emma Darwin was a keen piano player and played every day. She once even had a lesson with Chopin. Darwin himself was not very musical but loved to relax to Emma's playing, and they would often partake in a game of backgammon together of an evening.
As Amiel learnt more about Darwin, he began to feel passionate about telling his story, "Darwin is a man of enormous humility who found himself thrust into the spotlight. He was a shy revolutionary. He was a family man who absolutely adored his children in a way that anybody who has children can completely relate to. He was a man who sat on what has been called the biggest single idea in the history of human thought for over twenty-five years because he loved his wife and was desperately afraid of mortally hurting her feelings by publishing views that were completely antithetical to hers. As you grow to know him, it's almost impossible not to love him as so many of his contemporaries did. He's a man who's as far away as it's possible to imagine from the haunted, grey-bearded man that we see in most famous images of him."
Randal Keynes later became interested in learning more about his family history, and when English Heritage asked for his help in building up a picture of how Darwin lived with his wife and children at Down House, he threw himself into researching his great great grandfather and his family. He recalled his grandmother's stories, which led to him reading family letters and finding old photographs, keepsakes and mementoes that had been kept throughout the years.
The title of Keynes' book, 'Annie's Box', is based on a small writing case inside which Randal Keynes found a folded note of Darwin's headed, 'Annie's illness'. He realised this was Annie Darwin's writing box into which Emma had placed Darwin's letter, along with Annie's playthings, jewellery, stationery, and her feather pens. Emma had gathered together these keepsakes after Annie died, and they were not found until after Emma's death some forty-five years later.
Randal Keynes recalls, "I realised almost at once that this note had been kept by Darwin in the last two months of Annie's life, while he was clearly looking after her every day and watching very anxiously whether she was doing better or worse as they changed her medical treatment. I had a sudden insight into how intensely he cared about her. This case had survived, and brought to life the story. After getting this vivid sense of Darwin's love for Annie, I felt I wanted to find out everything about their relationship and what it had meant for him and Emma later in life. As I found out more I wanted to tell others the whole story. "
Heartbreakingly, Annie died at the age of ten following an illness now thought to have been tuberculosis. Charles, Emma and their family were left bereft, deeply missing their vibrant daughter and sibling. Darwin was haunted by guilt that perhaps Annie had inherited his propensity for ill-health. His study of inbreeding within species led him to fear that relationships between close relations, including humans, and first cousins such as Emma and himself, could lead to a weakness in offspring.
In cinemas July 15, 2010www.iconmovies.com.au/creation/