Real life husband and wife Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly play Charles and Emma Darwin in Creation, the historical biography about the struggles of a marriage and society under intense strain.
Personal tragedies and Darwin’s landmark research that cast doubt on the existence of God took a heavy toll on his pious wife. It was hardly a picnic for the actors, but they’re justifiably proud of their work.
Darwin circled the globe developing his theory of evolution, published in 1859 as On the Origin of Species. He claimed life evolved through natural selection, not through God’s design. The theory revolutionized 19th century thinking and remains one of the most important “discoveries” in human history.
According to the film, Darwin held off publication for Emma’s sake and because of his severe depression over the loss of their daughter, Annie, who was said to be the “apple” of his eye and his muse. Creation is based on keepsakes of Annie collected by Darwin that his great-great-grandson, Randal Keynes Darwin, discovered in 2000.
Bettany says he was keenly aware of the responsibility of playing one of modern history's greatest and most innovative thinkers.
“He’s been dead for a long while, so no one can really challenge me. There is so much research available to you that it’s intimidating, and frustrating, because you always think the answer’s in the books, the pile of books that you still haven’t read. I can’t possibly deliver the human being who possibly came up with the arguably the greatest idea human beings have ever come up with, I can’t bring that intelligence for real.
“But I know about loss, I do know about madness, and I do know about relationships, and I do know about children. I know about those things and I know what they feel like and those things ground me. And then I try to look intelligent staring at particles.”
Emma Darwin was a “charming, intelligent, and cultured cousin” who was often perceived as cold.
“As a mother, she really suffered the losses of her children,” says Connelly. “I think, obviously, it was devastation for her, but it was imperative that she be represented as strong and formidable as she was, so I endeavoured to portray a woman with great restraint and dignity. She didn’t indulge her suffering but she felt very deeply these losses, it was an effort to restrain it and keep it in. That is the way the Victorians were.”
Director Jon Amiel says Connelly knew the unsympathetic role was risky. “Many actors are undone by their need to have the audience love them. Emma was to outward appearances quite stern and intensely reserved, but an intensely emotional woman underneath. What’s so moving is often when a character is unable to display an emotion, we feel it on her behalf. Jen’s restraints in playing her made her so intensely moving.”
Bettany wades into vastly different territory in the vampire horror fantasy Legion, also in theatres tomorrow.
“Our vampires are very different,” he says. “They’re much more animals. I love vampire movies, I love zombie movies, and it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure.”