Jon Amiel's filmic adaptation of Randal Keynes's novel "Annie's Box," as reworked by screenwriter John Collee, is driven by too much melodrama to work as a biopic. On the brink of writing the book "that would kill God," Charles Darwin (meticulously played by Paul Bettany) is greeted by two of his mid-19th century colleagues (played by Toby Jones and Benedict Cumberbatch) who insist that he must cure himself of the illness that beleaguers him and finally write his thesis of creation. Bettany's real-life wife Jennifer Connelly plays Darwin's wife Emma. Perhaps in attempting to never upstage her husband, Connelly fails to rise to the "period" acting techniques required for the role. The story falls into the relationship between Darwin and his hyper intelligent daughter Annie (wonderfully played by newcomer Martha West). Capable of charming the birds from the trees, Annie is her father's constant companion. Every bit as excited about the natural world as her dad, and in some ways as knowledgeable as he, Annie lights up the narrative. A poorly prepared tragedy strikes before an ill-conceived flashback sequence breaks the film's linear movement. Paul Bettany carries the film with his sheer strength of preparation and passion. Though not especially revealing about Charles Darwin the scientist, "Creation" enjoys the power of Paul Bettany doing the thing he does best, create a character.
Rated PG-13. 108 mins. (C+) (Two Stars)