There’s a fine story hiding-in-plain-sight in this tricked out pic on the creation of Charles Darwin’s epochal book. After decades of travel & observation, the actual writing & publishing of ON THE ORIGINS OF THE SPECIES was both a personal culmination & one of the defining scientific efforts of the 1800s. But there was also great personal drama attached to it; and filmable drama, at that. Darwin knew all the religious, cultural & scientific applecarts he’d be turning over, and he knew what it would do at home where his wife had turned against his work after the death of two children. But the script overloads the situation, ‘solving’ the story with maudlin Victoriana & metaphysics out of THE SIXTH SENSE. (Or is it CASPER?) Paul Bettany & Jennifer Connelly should be fine as the Darwins, but helmer Jon Amiel is unable to coax more than a couple of facial expressions out of each. A few charming flashbacks illustrate Darwin’s genius at storytelling, but attempts at showing the Darwin clan as naturalists just looks too cute for words, even when the fox grabs the rabbit by the neck. Fortunately, just when the film threatens to collapse, the great Bill Paterson shows up as a sort of whacked-out water therapist/psychologist to play a couple of riveting scenes with Bettany that show all too clearly what’s missing elsewhere.
READ ALL ABOUT IT: Why not pick up ON THE ORIGINS OF THE SPECIES? Next to Freud, Darwin must be the most 'readable' of all the great scientists.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Or . . . forget Darwin entirely and pick up a great Bill Paterson film, the best Christmas pic you've never heard of, Bill Forsyth's COMFORT AND JOY/'84.