Monday, March 09, 2009

Reel People: Paul Bettany is Charles Darwin

The movie is Creation, directed by Jon Ameil, written by Master and Commander screenwriter John Collee based on the biographical work of Randal Keynes, most specifically the book Annie's Box.

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England two-hundred years ago in 1802 to Robert and Susannah Darwin. Born into a Unitarian family, the fifth of six children, Darwin attended school taught by the families Unitarian preacher, but when his mother died in 1818, Darwin went to boarding school at Anglican Shrewsbury School.

Darwin went to college at the University of Edinburgh, with original intentions on following his father and grandfather (Erasmus Darwin) in the field of medicine as a doctor, but was more prone to having interest in natural history and even taxidermy over surgery and medicine.

Due to Darwin's lack of interest in medicine, his father sent him to Christ College in Cambridge to get his Bachelor of Arts to become an Anglican priest. While there he became interested in both outdoor activities like horse back riding, as well at etymology, collecting various specimens of Beetles. While in school his interest was most focused on natural theology, investigating the divine design in nature.

After a summer mapping trip in Wales with Adam Sedgwick (the founder of modern geology), Darwin joined one of his closest friends and professors, botanist/geologist, John Stevens Henslow on a trip on the HMS Beagle to chart the coastline of South America.

While, Robert Darwin regarded Charles' trip as a waste of time, he was persuaded to allow his son to go on the the two-year voyage. The two year voyage ended up lasting just under five years. Darwin, often sea-sick, spent most of the trip collecting specimens and taking notes, particularly observing marine invertebrates, observing geological specimens caused by the rising and falling of tides, and observing shells, island birds and the effects of natural events on landforms and sea life.

Charles Darwin read the work of geologist Charles Lyell while on the HMS Beagel and upon returning to England had gained some notoriety and was invited to be a part of Lyell's social circles. Darwin was also able to be a self-funded scientist, as his father had secured funding for his son while he was traveling.

It was over the next couple years in England that Darwin began to delve into the ideas of transmutation and the idea that one species could become another. These ideas were particularly developed through discussions and observations made in these scientist circles and in the discussion of birds that Charles Darwin had observed on the various islands traveling through South America.

Darwin became very stressed and ill after Henslow and Darwin collected a treasury grant to publish multi-volume work of the zoology discovered on the HMS Beagle trip. Darwin finished the early drafts of his journal around June 20th, 1837, the same day Queen Victoria took the throne. Three months later Darwin started having heart trouble, and the doctors urged him to take a break from his work.

During this time Darwin traveled to visit his mother's side of the family (the Wedgewood's) in Staffordshire, England. During this time Darwin still continued his work and asking everyone he knew questions about zoological observations that might be able to support the ideas of transmutation. Darwin's interest in the subject continued to grow, and in March 1938 had a chance to see an orangutan at a zoo and began to connect his theory to include humans, no just birds and marine specimen.

By November 11, 1938 Charles proposed to marry his first cousin Emma Wedgewood despite his concerns that marriage would mean "less money for books" and a "terrible waste of time." Emma accepted the proposal although she was concerned that Darwin's doubts weren't as compatable with her strong Unitarian beliefs and that they might be separated from one another in the afterlife. They were married January 29, 1939. Charles was 29, and Emma was 30. Together they would have 10 children.

One of the most notable children, his second, Anne Elizabeth, died in 1951 at the age of 10. It is generally believed that the death of 'Annie' caused a great amount of stress on Charles, partially concerned that he had passed on weakness in his genetic make-up to his children through the closely linked genetics of him and his wife. It is also believed, that upon the death of Annie, Charles also began to seriously doubt his faith in God.

Still sick himself, Darwin continued his work, experimenting on a variety of plants and animals, continuing to investigate the ideas of natural selection while writing a variety of books and essays on geological and zoological topics.

In 1958 Darwin planned to present his paper, "On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection," but due to a scarlet fever outbreak in his family, and the death of one of his sons (Charles Waring Darwin who was born in 1856). Instead Lyell and Joseph Dalton Hooker presented on his behalf, and this was the first formal presentation of what would become Darwin's most famous work On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life which was published in 1859.

On the Origin of Species did not specifically address the human evolution, but did accept and acknowledge that the content and ideas would effect future evaluation of humankind, suggestion the possibility of common descent.

Darwin's publication was both popular, well read, and translated in many languages. There was instant appreciation as well as criticism of his work, but in many cases, Darwin had limited exposure to the praise and critics due to continued struggles with his own health. Many scientific work and scientific though began spinning out with the suggestions of natural selection and favored races.

In Kent, England, on April, 19 1882, at the age of 73, Darwin died, and was given a state funeral, being buried at Westminster Abby.


The film is based on the biographical work of Randal Keynes (great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin, also great-nephew of John Meynard Keyens). Keynes' book, Annie's Box, is also subtitled and often published as Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution. The book focuses largely on the death of Annie in 1951 and how the death effected Darwin's view of religion. The film is expected to draw on these themes, especially in light of his wife, Emma's, deep religious views.

The film not only stars Paul Bettany as Charles Darwin, but co-stars Jennifer Connelly as Emma Darwin (Wedgewood). The film also stars Jeremy Northam and Toby Jones.

Paul Bettany has worked with director Jon Ameil previously in Master and Commander, in a critical praised supporting role. Incidentally he has also worked with Jennifer Connelly before in A Beautiful Mind. Will the role of the father of evolution, be the role for Paul Bettany that will direct enough praise his way for Oscar nomination/win for portraying this Real (Reel) Person?


Jamie Dawn said...

This sounds like an interesting movie. I love watching movies, so I will probably see this one along the way some time. I'm usually behind when it comes to movies... like I will see Slumdog Millionaire most likely this spring or summer.
Even though Charles thought marriage was a "waste of time" he and his wife had ten kids, so he kept busy!!

Anonymous said...

What happened to the dates in the report?? Looks like everything's been transposed to the 20th century and poor little Annie would have died at the age of 110...

Anonymous said...

the dates are wrong. he was born in 1809 and his mother died in 1817. he went to school in 1818