Charles Darwin (Paul Bettany) is the author of the seminal book on evolution, “On the Origin of the Species,” published in 1859, more than two decades after he took the famous voyage on The Beagle, which he started in 1831 when he was 22, and returned five years later. His book looked at the development of the human species as something other than creation. This is the story of the writing of that book and how it affected Darwin’s relationship with his deeply religious Unitarian wife, his cousin Emma Wedgewood (Jennifer Connelly, Bettany’s wife in real life). According to this film, their relationship was severely impacted by the divergence between what he was writing and what she believed. Darwin had studied for the clergy at Cambridge, so he started out with a religious point of view.
As he writes his book, however, his young 10-year-old daughter, Annie (Martha West), becomes ill and dies (this actually occurred in 1851, 8 years before publication, when Darwin was 42). This causes Darwin to have both a physical and mental breakdown, born out of grief and guilt.
Bettany’s picture of Darwin is not the ancient, old man with the long beard normally pictured. Rather, he is a young father of several children living with a wife he adores. Contemporary photographs of Darwin at that age show a man who looks remarkably like Bettany looks in this film.
The film is long and slow. Bettany and Connelly give wonderful performances but the film drags quite a bit.