I spoke to Randal Keynes on January 18, 2010 just as a particularly strong Pacific storm hit San Francisco. You can hear it as we talk about the film adaptation of the book he wrote about his great-great grandfather, Charles Darwin, who caused a storm of a different kind when he published his still controversial theory of evolution. The conversation covered the difference between having to stick to the facts and using artistic license, what Darwin was really like, and why there should be acting awards for animals.
CREATION is a film about Charles Darwin’s process of understanding the theory of evolution, considering the consequences of it personally, professionally, and as it would affect society as a whole. The film is based on his non-fiction book of the same name by Keynes, who is the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin and his relationship to Darwin, including family stories and artifacts, has given him insights that others might miss. Keynes is a noted conservationist and on the board of the of the Foundation for Galapagos, the islands that spurred Darwin’s thinking about evolution. The film weaves together his ancestor’s development of the theory of evolution with the death of his beloved daughter, Annie. The interview touches on the context of Darwin’s time in understanding the impact of his theory, as well as the advantage that filmmaker John Amiel and John Colley had in producing a narrative film that uses speculation and poetic licence while still being true to the spirit of the story. The converstation starts with Keynes discussing his own work with conservation, particularly in the Galapagos, and then goes on to describe the contrast between the paradigm-shifting theory that touched off such controversy, and the mild-mannered man behind it. He also assures the listener that despite several scenes in which animals are hurt, in keeping with his own and Darwin’s views about how animals, and people for that matter, should be treated. Other issues that film introduces are 19th-century medicine, and the amazing performance of Jenny the orangutan in scenes with actor Paul Bettany, who portrays Darwin.
We started, though, talking about the Galapagos Islands, a place that has loomed large in Darwin family history.