Time Out says
The life of Charles Darwin tries to crawl its way out of the primordial soup—or is it syrup?—of Creation. You wince at the struggle, the sentimentality drowning the survival odds of the film’s less-than-fit biopic subject. After his early years of seafaring expedition aboard the Beagle, the evolutionist (Bettany) fell into a sickly period of writer’s block, during which he married and raised a family (at an emotional remove, we’re led to believe). A child, Annie, died of complications from scarlet fever; that’s the story’s guilt-ridden crux. (Alongside The Lovely Bones and the forthcoming Edge of Darkness, it’s a season of ghostly dead daughters.) Elsewhere, this is the kind of drama in which Brits shout things like, “You’re fighting a war with God, Charles!” Will On the Origin of Species pass muster in a tense draft-reading climax with pious wife Emma (Connelly, strangely stilted with real-life spouse Bettany)?
Still, there are sparks here that suggest the smarter movie a more scientifically minded director—say, David Cronenberg—might have made. Bettany is effortlessly brainy, even able to assume a slight dottiness while in explainer mode that’s charming. A baby sparrow falls from its nest, and the camera speeds up into scary Lynchvision as the body decomposes, capturing the harshness of Darwin’s radical ideas. The beaming smile of young Martha West (playing Annie) is almost a special effect unto itself; likewise an extraordinary sequence with an actual orangutan interacting with Bettany on the floor in a zoo. The two cavort, draw and touch hands; it awakens precisely what the rest of the movie lacks—curiosity.—Joshua Rothkopf
Opens Fri 22.
Watch the trailer