Creation - Charles Darwin, played by Paul Bettany, reaches out to Jenny the orangutan

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection has been described (by philosopher Daniel Dennett) as “the single best idea that anyone has ever had”. That it’s also the most explosive idea anyone has ever had is confirmed by the fuss currently being stirred up by the new Darwin biopic, Creation, which opens in the UK today.

Despite opening the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month with a glitzy red carpet premiere attended by stars Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly, Jon Amiel’s movie didn’t have a US distributor until independent company Newmarket picked up the rights to the film this week* – a delay that producer Jeremy Thomas ascribes to the discomfort that Darwin’s dangerous idea continues to provoke. As Thomas puts it, evolution is “still a really hot potato in America”.

Creation - Jon Amiel’s classy biopic of Charles Darwin

Watching Amiel’s intelligently scripted, beautifully shot and handsomely acted film, it’s hard to fathom why so many people in the States (and elsewhere) get so worked up about Darwin. A century and a half after the publication of The Origin of Species, the theory of evolution by natural selection seems as incontrovertible as the notion that the Earth orbits the Sun. In Britain most Anglican bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, have no difficulties accepting evolution, yet only 39% of Americans believe in it, as a Gallup poll confirmed this year.

For believers in design, however, what could be more fitting than the release of Creation in the very week that Chinese scientists announce the discovery of five new fossils providing evidence that birds are descended from dinosaurs. If Jon Amiel’s far from provocative film ruffles creationists’ feathers, heaven knows what these findings will do.

On general release from 25th September.

* In what is either the work of a supreme cosmic ironist or of an all-too-human, feather-ruffling provocateur, Creation is now getting a US release from the very company that turned Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ into a surprise box-office hit.

[swf]http://uk.player.filmtrailer.com/v3.1/&mid=2459&channel_user_id=441100180-1&repeat=1&volume=0[/swf]

To activate the sound in the trailer: hold your cursor over the screen to reveal the control panel and click on the volume control in the bottom right-hand corner.