I’ll go see it

A new movie about Darwin is in the works—

Jeremy Thomas is set to produce Annie’s Box about Charles Darwin, and hiring John Collee to write and directed by Jon Amiel.

The film will be based on a biography of Darwin by Randall Keynes, the great-great grandson of the Victorian scientist. Variety notes it focuses on the period when Darwin was writing The Origin of the Species, his ground-breaking treatise on evolution, while living a family life at Down House in Kent, near London.

The ‘Annie’ of the title is Darwin’s first daughter, whose death aged 10 left him grief-stricken. With his scientific discoveries leading him toward agnosticism, he was unable to find consolation in belief in an afterlife, but coped with his loss by plunging into his work.

Thomas plans to start production on Annie’s Box next year in Down House; he’s hoping for a release in 2009, the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth.

The book it is based on is Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) by Randal Keynes, and it’s an excellent choice. There’s a great deal of potential for family-centered drama in the story—it’s all about his family life, and in particular the effect of the death of a daughter at the age of 10—but there’s also some difficult material on Darwin’s tussle with religion that’s going to be hard to capture. (It’s also not easily summarized; Darwin left Christianity behind, but his ideas about a deity were conflicted).


  1. Chris Berez says

    There was a pretty good movie about Darwin made for the PBS Evolution series, which I’m sure you’ve seen.

    That said, I’ll definitely be excited to see this film as well.

  2. quork says

    Bad title. I’m guessing a lot of people will rent it on the mistaken assumption that it is pR0n.

  3. Wes says

    Jeremy Thomas is set to produce Annie’s Box about Charles Darwin, and hiring John Collee to write and directed by Jon Amiel.

    The person who wrote this needs to work on his grammar.

    The movie sounds really interesting, despite the bad title. Hopefully they’ll fix the title before release.

  4. says

    I second (third? fourth? whatever) the slamming of the crappy title. It should be interesting though, as his time at Down was when most of his thought took place. That said, I wouldn’t mind seeing some stuff based on his Beagle journeys, including Darwin and crew blowing away all sorts of exotic animals. I’ve been reading (actually still reading) two other Darwin books: Fossils, Finches, and Fuegians which is about the Beagle voyage, and Darwin and the Barnacle, which is about his time at Down studying barnacles and stuff. Both are interesting reads.

  5. Dave Godfrey says

    In the UK, and other places the book was called “Annie’s Box”, and subtitled “Darwin, his Daughter and Human Evolution”. According to one of the reviews on Amazon.co.uk:-

    “The box in question which was found by Randal Keynes when sorting through family documents was, in fact, a writing case containing all the materials necessary for a Victorian young lady to carry on her correspondence and to which other memorabilia, including an appreciation of his daughter by Charles, was added for preservation as a memorial after Annie’s death.”

  6. Dave Godfrey says


    There was a two-hour documentary based on the book called “Darwin’s Daughter” made in 2002, which may have made it over to the states.

  7. says

    Bad title. I’m guessing a lot of people will rent it on the mistaken assumption that it is pR0n.

    Umm, doesn’t that make it a good title? I mean, if it’s mistaken for porn, it’ll probably end up in the hands of a lot of “conservatives” whose minds need changin’ about Darwin. ;^)

  8. says

    As I mentioned in the comments to another recent thread here, I’m currently reading the book (my US-purchased copy is simply called Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution. I look forward to the movie, as the book is excellent. Keynes manages a great balance. The book is primarily excerpts from the writings of the family, friends, and so on, with exactly the right amount of context (immediate goings-on in the family as well as social and cultural happenings that are relevant). It will be a challenging book to do justice to, but it contains lots of good stuff: Dawrin’s thinking leading up to the Origin, his view of morality and ethics of the day, Emma’s religion and Charles’s attitude toward it (my favorite tidbit so far is that Emma as a Unitarian Dissenter still had the family attend Anglican services, because that’s simply what families of their ilk did; however, as the rest of the congregation faced the altar and recited the Creed, Emma had the Darwin family face the congregation and stare them down), quackery of the day, and so on. Should be interesting.

  9. lockean says

    John Collee, the screenwriter, wrote the script for Master and Commander. (Which in my opinion was mediocre.)

    Remember the hokey scene where the young idealistic ship’s surgeon is on shore gawking at fauna in a sort of Darwin-on-the-Beagle way? I would expect a lot of that sort of thing.

  10. Steve Watson says

    ….Darwin and the Barnacle, which is about his time at Down studying barnacles and stuff.

    Just read that. Wonderful prortrait of Darwin the family man, at home in Down, slaving over his dissecting microscope, struggling with his work, his illness (and the largely quack therapies which were all the doctors of his day had to offer), his correspondents and publishers — but deeply devoted to his children. I do have some qualms about the book’s accuracy though — given the bloopers that I did recognize, I have to wonder how much else the author got wrong.

  11. says

    Steve: I noticed a bit of that too. Also, the author seems to be putting thoughts into peoples heads without justification, a lot of conjecture, etc, that hurts the historical credibility a little. Still, as you say, a wonderful portrait of the family man and scientist during his later days.

  12. jackd says

    if it’s mistaken for porn, it’ll probably end up in the hands of a lot of “conservatives” whose minds need changin’ about Darwin

    Funny, but if this project moves ahead, what will happen is:

    While it’s still in production, The Discovery Institute and assorted others will condemn it as pro-Darwin propaganda. I predict the term “whitewashing” will be used frequently. The accusations will be recycled if the movie makes it into general release. Fundamentalists will claim that Darwin’s loss of faith shows the danger and uselessness of wishy-washy Anglican-style religion. The absolute nimrods will complain that Darwin’s deathbed conversion was left out for nefarious reasons.

  13. David Marjanović says

    I do have some qualms about the book’s accuracy though — given the bloopers that I did recognize, I have to wonder how much else the author got wrong.

    What were those?

  14. David Marjanović says

    I do have some qualms about the book’s accuracy though — given the bloopers that I did recognize, I have to wonder how much else the author got wrong.

    What were those?

  15. Mrs Tilton says

    By any standard, the best dramatic portrayal of Darwin has got to be the one from the Blinky the Three-Eyed Fish episode of The Simpsons.

    Lockean at #9, when it comes to the portrayal of the “young idealistic ship’s surgeon”,M&C was far worse than mediocre. No disrespect to Russell Crowe’s invisible Princeton roommate, but the Dr Maturin of the books was a short ugly ageing sparse-haired man with a voice like a screeching lizard, not a tall handsome fellow with little round intellectual specs. In justice he could only have been played by Stephen Rea, and this hideous miscasting is a severe black mark against the film.

    Plus, it would have been much cooler if the film had shown the scene from the books where Maturin dissects the Napoleonic spy.

  16. says

    In the Before Time, in the Long Long Ago, there was a BBC miniseries called The Voyage of Charles Darwin (imdb page) which was quite good. Much of it was filmed on location, and they even built a replica of the Beagle for it!

    Unfortunately, I do not believe it was ever available in VHS, Betamax, Laserdisc, or Selectivision(to say nothing of DVD…). Our University’s copy is in U-matic (a video format from the Proterozoic of homevideo).

    I would like to think that maybe the BBC will reissue it for the bicentennial, but who knows?

  17. Jason says

    Like most critics, I thought Master and Commander was a terrific movie, and I loved the Darwinesque portrayal of the Paul Bettany character. You literature snobs can’t appreciate a good film.

  18. beldar says

    I think Collee is a good choice based on the work he and Peter Weir did on “Master and Commander”. I second the above comment by Mrs. Tilton – I also thought of Stephen Rea when picturing Mauturin (overwhelmingly my favorite character in the novels) and was disppointed that more facets of Maturin’s character and background weren’t shown in the movie (partly the result of the time and location of the story).

  19. says

    I’m delighted that a movie is coming that focuses on Darwin’s private life. One of the ironies of the war against evolution is that the endlessly vilified Darwin was in fact an exemplary human being who would have been admirable for his decency and devotion to his family even if his ideas had turned out to be wrong.

  20. Sastra says

    Since Darwin’s ideas about a deity were, as you say, “conflicted” I’m willing to bet that the end result will be typical Hollywood pandering to the spiritual middle: Darwin loses his belief in a literalist, anthropomorphic God only to realize that there is a Higher Power, and it is grander (and vaguer) than any of the ideas of Him which humans have created. The general public loves to believe that Truth is always in the middle ground between extremes, and everyone loves to see themselves and their heroes as that moderate sort of common-sense type who figures this out.

  21. Mrs Tilton says

    Jason at #17,

    oh, I agree. I thought M&C was a terrific movie, too. Really; I enjoyed it a lot. It just wasn’t a terrific adaptation of O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin cycle. If you haven’t read it, give it a try; you’re in for a treat. Mind you, I am perhaps not an objective witness — I’ve read the 20 volumes three times through, and am starting to feel the itch for a fourth round.

  22. Jason says

    Mrs Tilton, yes, I’ve heard consistently good things about the books, and they’re on my reading list. I misread your post about the movie.

  23. Sonja says

    I was hooked by Master and Commander when the Captain’s cabin string quartet started playing the Corelli “Christmas” Concerto. It’s one of my favorites. The Darwinesque character was icing on the cake.

    If this movie is going to talk about Darwin’s family life, I hope they bring up the theory about younger siblings. There was a book called Born to Rebel (that has been somewhat debunked) that claims that youngests are more able to break away from traditional thinking and have their own ideas.

    I understand this was not an academic study, but I still love the idea as I share birth order with Charles Darwin (5th), and am also the most itellectually rebellious of my siblings.

    Previous to this book, all the thinking about birth order was that it was a curse to be a youngest because “successful” people tend to be first-born children.

  24. says

    Thomas at #16:

    I don’t believe U-matic was ever a home video format. More like from the Steam Age of professional systems…

    In any case, I remember watching that series as a child when it was first broadcast. In my memory at least, it was great. I’d love to see it again.

  25. Scott Hatfield says

    PZ: Here’s a great topic for a Pharyngula thread. Since this proposed film project is probably uncast, who would we cast as Darwin, Fitzroy, and all the other parts?

  26. Tycho the Dog says

    Sounds a bit dull to me. Why not have Darwin on the trail of a mysterious scroll known as ‘The Origin’ – ‘a secret uncovered by the ancients and hidden since the dawn of time – a secret that will tear the world apart’. The scroll could be concealed in a booby-trapped temple, somewhere on the Galapagos Islands.

    For Darwin, I’d cast The Rock, with Fitzroy played by Angelina Jolie.

  27. Andrew says

    Down House is a must see for anyone visiting the London area – superbly restored by English Heritage and full of fascinating exhibits. The ground floor rooms look as they did when the Darwins were in residence and the gardens are wonderful. We visited on a quiet autumn day and were the only people on the famous ‘walk’: very easy to imagine the great man walking towards us amongst the trees thinking great thoughts.


    As to casting, Jim Broadbent maybe? http://www.spotlightcd.com/hallfame/portraits/jim_broadbent.jpg

  28. thwaite says

    Tycho, there’s a novel about Darwin which has a slightly more plausible “mystery”, John Darnton’s THE DARWIN CONSPIRACY. I’ll spoil half of it by revealing its basic premise, that Chuck’s insight to natural selection was provided in South America by his discussion with a tribe which had intuited this truth of nature. The novel as such has mostly negative reviews on Amazon (“An intelligent, well-written, well thought-out bore…”), but this premise raises the interesting question: why isn’t there such intuition? In fact natural selection seems profoundly unintuitive, for reasons separate from those rendering the Deep Time scales of evolution equally unintuitive. I’ll be interested how the movie-makers popularize either.

  29. thwaite says

    (And yes I recall that Darwin’s grand-dad Erasmus intuited and wrote into poetry (!) the core concepts of evolution, overpopulation and by inference natural selection. Erasmus was part of the distinct minority. And of course intuition doesn’t necessarily lead to demonstration, although lack of intuition often hinders it.)

  30. says

    The BBC series ‘The Voyage of the Beagle’ – they didn’t build a replica, they used a lookalike, which looked very little like the origin(al) of the species.

    We’re building a replica, so if you want a proper HMS Beagle delivering a facsimile of The Origin to the USA in 2009 (Darwin sent two copies to Harvard), come on over and support us.