Paul Bettany plays scientist Charles Darwin in "Creation." (BBC Films)
A great moment in the history of ideas does not necessarily make for a great movie.
As Exhibit A, turn to "Creation," an obviously heartfelt attempt to capture the dilemmas confronting Charles Darwin while he wrote "The Origin of Species" that takes a wrong turn toward family tragedy.
Darwin (Paul Bettany) struggled to write the book, knowing that it would be used by some to discredit Christianity while being called blasphemy by others.
Among those less than thrilled with the idea of evolution were the preacher living next door to Darwin (Jeremy Northam) and the good Mrs. Darwin herself (Jennifer Connelly), a devout churchgoer. This did not, apparently, make for domestic bliss.
Still, these concerns are not central to "Creation," eventually playing instead around the periphery. Assumedly looking for more dramatic traction, director Jon Amiel and writer John Collee, working from a biography by Randal Keynes, concentrate on Darwin's suffering over the death of his daughter Annie (Martha West, smiling too consistently).
The combination of Annie's death -- it's never quite clear what she dies from -- and the stress of knocking the world off its scientific axis make Darwin a hallucinating, drug-addled, gaunt ghost of a man for most of the movie.
Every once in a while, Amiel will set his time-lapse camera on some rotting animal corpse as it disintegrates into the soil, reminding us again of the import of Darwin's ideas. But then Annie the Dead Girl pops up again and Darwin starts shivering.
But for all that shivering and sulking about, "Creation" never picks up much momentum. Its personal story seems too small while the immensity of the book being written is passed over too quickly.
Yes, it offers a story behind the story; but the story in front was likely more important.