NCSE’s Eugenie Scott reviews “Creation”

Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education (do join!), has reviewed Creation for the blog Panda’s Thumb. Some choice parts:

I could nitpick on historical details (Annie was not the eldest child; Darwin’s visits to Malvern are not in correct sequence; Origin of Species was his 9th book, not his first; historians legitimately debate how important Annie’s death was to Darwin’s rejection of Christianity) but it’s a movie, not a documentary. A movie, as opposed to a documentary, goes for the spirit, not the letter: you can’t get bent out of shape because timelines are changed. Movies operate on emotions – as Randy Olson says, movies aren’t about the head, but the heart, the gut, and the crotch. If you want a historical documentary, don’t go to movies.

Yet much of Creation‘s dialogue is taken directly from Darwin’s correspondence or that of his contemporaries. There is a TON of real history here: I loved the depiction of the quack water cures at Malvern, and Darwin did indeed have his servants build a water tower for him at Down so that he could “take the cure” between visits to the spa. The presentation of his relationship with Hooker, Darwin’s closest friend, who was adored by the Darwin children, was accurate and excellent. BTW, the actor playing Hooker was superb, and the physical likeness is startling. The physical likeness of the actor playing Huxley – less so, but the Bulldog’s pugnacious spirit certainly is well-done.


By telling an interesting story, and making Darwin human, Creation will I think encourage some viewers to find out more about the historical Darwin and his ideas. From my standpoint as director of NCSE, that’s useful, indeed. The more people know about evolution and its most famous proponent, the less they will fear it. I’d like to see this movie get distributed in the US. Unfortunately, although Canadians and British will see it, there is not yet a US distributor. We can only speculate why, but the well-known American nervousness about evolution is probably and unfortunately part of the mix.

This movie deserves to be seen in movies, not relegated merely to Netflix on DVD. I hope the reviews following the North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10 are good, and also the reviews following the British premiere October 25. If a bomb like Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed can get a distributor, a well-made movie with an excellent script, actors, direction, and cinematography like Creation surely should.

More on the Young Darwin

Paul Bettany as Charles Darwin

Paul Bettany as Charles Darwin

About a month ago I posted about the need for imagery of a young Darwin. Olivia Judson, who has written much on Darwin for The New York Times, makes the same point in her post about Creation:

But to pick at such things misses the point. Too often, Darwin is depicted as a kind of fossil: an old man with a huge beard looking as though he’s 350. It’s refreshing to see him looking young and handsome; indeed, Bettany manages to look astonishingly like the portrait of the young Darwin. And more to the point, Bettany shows Darwin as a man rather than icon, imbuing him with life and love, gentleness and anxiety, tears and laughter. This alone makes it an important film.

Read the rest of Judson’s piece here. Thanks to Merkin J. Pus-Tart for pointing me to it.

London in October & “Creation” Reviews

I will be in London in October for a research trip, and thought it would be a good idea to give my agenda here in the event that anyone wants to meet up. I have met three fellow science bloggers thus far (Anne-Marie in Wilmington, NC, and Karen and Richard in Cambridge, England), and I think meeting more would do me good, because sometimes here in Montana I feel like I am in a world of my own (although, my university boasts another science, and yay, Darwin blogger – Michael Bertasso of Darwinaia – but I have yet to meet him). So, this is when I will be in London and what I will be doing:

Sunday, October 25: Arriving in London, will be tired I am sure, but up for something in the evening

Monday, October 26: archives at the Royal Institution from 10am-5pm, so free in the morning and evening

Tuesday, October 27: archives at the Royal Institution from 10am-5pm, so free in the morning and evening

Wednesday, October 28: archives at the Royal Institution from 10am-5pm, so free in the morning and evening

Thursday, October 29: archives at Kew Gardens from 9am-5pm, so free in the evening

Friday, October 30: spending the day at the Natural History Museum (I spent only an hour there in July) and the new Darwin Centre!

Saturday, October 31: spending the day going to and visiting Down House

I think it would be neat to see Creation in London. I am not sure yet if I will have seen it in the U.S. by then, for it still lacks a distributor here. The film opens the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10th, opens in the UK on September 25th, and has been reviewed so far by Wired and The Globe and Mail, and an “On the Set” piece from the LA Times.

What else should I do in London while I am there?

We need more imagery of the young Darwin

Darwin portrait by Jeffrey Morgan, on the cover of "Charles Darwin's Letters" (CUP, 1998)

Darwin portrait by Jeffrey Morgan, on the cover of "Charles Darwin's Letters" (CUP, 1998)

That popular imagery of Darwin too often portrays him as old and bearded has been discussed much recently (and acted upon!), and there seems to be an effort to bring in the image of a young Charles Darwin to academic and popular audiences. A smattering of the young Darwin:

Blog posts: Tetrapod Zoology: Why I hate Darwin’s beardThe Ethical Palaeontologist: Darwin’s ImageBeagle Project Blog: An Open Letter to Simon Gurr: more hair please; “Darwin’s not a stuff-shirted Nigel Bruce”; Young Darwins in February: Bora 1, Greg 0; Got evolution?; Young Darwin sculpture by a young Darwin sculptorDispersal of Darwin: Beagle-Bobble; Darwin Portrait by Carl Buell; This one’s for you, Karen; Pictures of the Young Darwin.

Recent books: The Young Charles Darwin by Keith Thomson; Darwin in Cambridge by John van Wyhe; Young Charles Darwin and the Voyage of the Beagle by Ruth Ashby; The Voyage of the Beetle by Anne Weaver; The Curious Mind of Young Darwin; The True Adventures of Charley Darwin by Carolyn Meyer; One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin by Kathyrn Lasky; Animals Charles Darwin Saw by Sandra Markle; What Darwin Saw: The Journey That Changed the World by Rosayln Schanzer; Darwin by Alice B. McGinty; What Mr Darwin Saw by Mick Manning; Charles Darwin and the Beagle Adventure by A.J. Wood and Clint Twist; Charles Darwin, the Discoverer by Vargie Johnson; and The Darwin Story: A Lifetime of Curiosity, a Passion for Discovery by H.M. Ahn and T.S. Lee.

Performance: A Glimpse of the Young Darwin; biology instructor Greg Bole’s impersonation of a young(ish) Darwin.

Films: The Young Charles Darwin (trailer on YouTube; review at The Friends of Charles Darwin); Creation (forthcoming Darwin biopic featuring Paul Bettany as a young and middle-aged Darwin).

Art: Young Darwin’s evolution adventures; the logo for The HMS Beagle Project; Anthony Smith’s bronze sculpture of a young Darwin (hanging out with me! & a mini version of this sculpture makes its own voyage); Charles Darwin as a graduate student; Russian paintings of a young Darwin; a new Dover colouring book; Darwin and Galapagos; a young Charles Darwin; young Darwin image for The Great Plant Hunt; Young Charles Darwin (comic illustration); set of images from The Curious Mind of Young Darwin; statue of a young Darwin in Portugeuse exhibit.

Darwin was, for much of his life, unbearded and not an old man. He was only 22 when he embarked on HMS Beagle (he did, however, grow a beard during the voyage – Darwin wrote in his diary while in Tierra del Fuego: “They received us with less distrust & brought with them their timid children. — They noticed York Minster (who accompanied us) in the same manner as Jemmy, & told him he ought to shave, & yet he has not 20 hairs in his face, whilst we all wear our untrimmed beards”). Darwin was 50 when he published On the Origin of Species. So why is it that he is more often than not portrayed like this?

Old, bearded Darwin

Old, bearded Darwin

And not like this?

Young, adventurous Darwin

Young, adventurous Darwin

Probably because an image of an old man shows more respectability. And the beard shows his wisdom. But a young Darwin shows a curious mind, and, I think, can enable a younger generation to follow his story, as many of the recent books about Darwin for young readers seem to grasp on. What prompted this post, however, was coming across a book in a small Montana town toy store this past weekend. The book is part of the Who Was? series, telling the lives of notable historical figures (others include Einstein, Franklin, Magellan, King Tut, Mark Twain, and Shakespeare). Who Was Charles Darwin? by Deborah Hopkinson (Grosset & Dunlap, 2005) features illustrations by Nancy Harrison. Harrison also painted the image on the front of the slim book. This is it:

Time-traveling Darwin

Time-traveling Darwin


Here we have Darwin, writing in one of his notebooks on the Galapagos Islands, amongst the tortoises with HMS Beagle hanging out in the background. This image has to be in 1835, when the Beagle visited the islands. Yet pictured here is an anachronistic Darwin from the 1870s, iconic beard in hand, er, on chin. Please, illustrators for children’s Darwin books, be accurate. If we are to see Darwin as a person, then let’s see him as he was in a particular time.

The cover of this book was too good not to spend the five bucks on it. As for the text of it, overall a nice treatment of Darwin for children.

If you know of any other neat examples of young Darwin art, books, or blog posts, let me know so I can add them.

MOVIE: PBS airs ‘Darwin’s’ story

From Variety (23 July 2009):

PBS airs ‘Darwin’s’ story

Scripted feature film to air October 6

PBS will air the first scripted feature film produced by National Geographic TV, “Darwin’s Darkest Hour,” Oct. 6 on “Nova.”

Henry Ian Cusick (“Lost”) stars alongside Frances O’Connor (“Mansfield Park”) in the film, which depicts professional and personal traumas evolutionary scientist Charles Darwin faced in 1858, the year before his theory of natural selection was published in “On the Origin of Species.”

John Bradshaw directed a script by John Goldsmith (“Victoria and Albert”). Norman Stephens and John Bredar are exec producers. Principal photography took place in Canada.

Though scripted, Goldsmith worked with Darwin and evolution scholars to achieve accuracy. NatGeo prexy Michael Rosenfeld said the two-hour feature aims to show Darwin’s “vulnerabilities while also making his great insights understandable.”

Cinema Management Group is distributing internationally. Plans are already set for “Darwin’s” to air on Japanese pubcaster NHK via a co-production agreement attained by National Geographic Television Intl

Toronto film festival picks Darwin drama Creation as opener

From CBC:

The world premiere of Creation, a drama about evolution theorist Charles Darwin starring married actors Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly, has nabbed the opening night slot at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

Organizers announced their selection of the British film on Tuesday morning, as well as 22 more additions to its gala and special presentations lineups.

“We have traditionally opened with a Canadian film, but this year we chose to go a different route. We fell in love with this movie and this is the one, we felt, really sets the tone for the kinds of conversations we hope will happen around the films at the festival,” TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey told reporters on Tuesday.

He added that the “tension between faith and reason” seen in Jon Amiel’s film Creation — which follows Darwin as he struggles with the views of his deeply religious wife and his world-changing theories — is also emerging in other films programmers have selected.

“This theme of that eternal conflict between faith and reason does seem to be emerging from different parts of the world, in different kinds of films: documentaries, fiction films, big films, small films,” Bailey said.

New Darwin Film from National Geographic and PBS/NOVA

I was wondering if PBS would have a contribution this year, but hadn’t heard anything. As much as I like “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” from the Evolution series, let’s hope this new film reenactment skips the “Darwin-being-burned-at-the-stake” nightmare.


Film finds home for Darwin in Valley

June 2, 2009


Kings County Register 

The Port Williams area is one of the locations involved in the filming of a new movie about evolutionary scientist Charles Darwin. 

Prescott House at Starr’s Point was the scene of filming June 1. Ryan Vessey, a production assistant, said the Nova Scotia museum “was excited to be involved.” 

According to Vessey, the film is a joint project of National Geographic and Nova/ PBS. It will be called I, Darwin. 

“It focuses on the period just before the publication of his book,” said Vessey, when Darwin was feeling threatened by a rival. 

He explained Prescott House, circa 1814, is the right period; the surrounding landscape also fits. 

Henry Ian Cus[i]ck, who appears in ABC’s Lost as Desmond, is Darwin; and Australian actress Frances O’Connor plays his wife. Halifax actor Jeremy Webb was also cast. 

Vessey estimates shooting will continue locally into next week when the production will move to Uniacke House. About 100 people are involved. 

Darwin’s 200th birthday was this past February. It is also 150 years since he published On the Origin of Species.

How to Get the BBC’s ‘The Voyage of Charles Darwin’ (1978) on DVD

A comment on Pharyngula in 2007:

In the Before Time, in the Long Long Ago, there was a BBC miniseries called The Voyage of Charles Darwin (imdb page) which was quite good. Much of it was filmed on location, and they even built a replica of the Beagle for it! Unfortunately, I do not believe it was ever available in VHS, Betamax, Laserdisc, or Selectivision(to say nothing of DVD…). Our University’s copy is in U-matic (a video format from the Proterozoic of homevideo). I would like to think that maybe the BBC will reissue it for the bicentennial, but who knows?


And in 2008:

There are several ways to put out a positive film about evolution and science – and one good way has already been broadcast, but not released, “The Voyage of Charles Darwin” in 1978. See for details. Surely it would be relatively inexpensive to persuade the BBC to release this, or even re-edit it and update it for the upcoming Charles Darwin anniversary? Perhaps the Friends of Charles Darwin could lend a hand?

Then several blogs noted that the series had been uploaded to YouTube in many parts, including myself: DoD, Dawkins, The Red Notebook, The Beagle Project Blog, and New Papyrus. You could even download it from Atheist Movies. But the quality is not great…

With such interest in this film, you would think BBC would, in this year of all things Darwin, release it for all to enjoy (now and future generations). Well, apparently the decision to make a BBC series available on DVD is handled by a company called 2entertain, and they review each quarter public enquiries/requests. So, contact 2entertain at and request they release “The Voyage of Charles Darwin” on DVD in 2009!

Yet another Darwin film

Darwin, Animated

Darwin, Animated

From SciFi Wire:

Wallace & Gromit creators announce two new animated adventures

Sony Pictures and stop-frame animation house Aardman Animations are moving forward with two animated features, Arthur Christmas and Pirates!, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Pirates! is based on The Pirates! (in an Adventure with Scientists), the best-selling series of books by Gideon Defoe. The story follows a group of pirates who journey to London, meet Charles Darwin and a talking chimp named Mister Bobo, and an enemy looking to wipe them out.

Arthur Christmas will tackle the question of how Santa delivers all his presents in one night.

Pirates! will see Aardman co-founder Peter Lord back behind the camera for a movie done in hand-crafted stop-motion animation, the company’s signature style as seen in films such as Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of Were-Rabbit and Chicken Run, while Christmas will be produced wholly in CGI.

Aardman signed a three-year, first-look deal with Sony in 2007, though no projects had been announced. Pirates! and Arthur Christmas are the first two to land on the production runway.

Nature Podcast: Darwin

Nature Podcast: Darwin

Nature Podcast: Darwin

12 February 2009

play full podcast | Text

In this episode:

Website for the film ‘Creation’

Today a design agency which creates webpages for film productions emailed me about the new webpage for the forthcoming film Creation. Here is their press release:

Upcoming film CREATION, starring Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly, announces the launch of new website –
CREATION is John Collee’s screen adaptation of the book “Annie’s Box” by Randal Keynes, great, great-grandson of Charles Darwin. Described by Director Jon Amiel as part ghost story, part psychological thriller, part heart-wrenching love story, the film promises a Charles Darwin as you’ve never seen him before. Currently due for release in 2009 to coincide with the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth, the new website offers audiences the chance to follow the film’s development as well as other Darwin commemorations.
Showcasing unique content for CREATION, the website newsfeed will provide insights into the filmmaking process as well as linking to relevant stories on partner sites. This is an exciting opportunity to watch the film evolve and to find out more about the young Darwin and his family.
HanWay Films, international sales agent, are behind the website and are excited to be a part of a project marking such an important historic figure. Visit the website to find out more about CREATION the movie.
The film is planned for a fall release. Maybe I can plan to see it in London when I go this fall. Hmm. There are a few stills from the movie on the site also, which I reproduce here:
Creation Still 1

Creation Still 1

Creation Still 2

Creation Still 2

Creation Still 3

Creation Still 3

There is also a Facebook group you can join. I am excited about this film – the stills look stunning. I am sure Bettany will be fabulous, but I hope the film captures more about Darwin’s work and the development of his ideas, and doesn’t focus 100% on his fear of religious backlash. We’ll see. 

FILM: Evilution! (on Kent Hovind)

This short film was made by a student at my university’s MFA program in Science and Natural History Filmmaking:

Kent Hovind wants you to know that evolution is an evil lie. Incorporating a fascinating array of found footage and animations, Libbey White gives you a ringside seat at the holy war between science and religion. Which side will win? Watch “Evilution!”, if you dare.

It’s not embeddable, so watch it here.