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Collee Gets Creative


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Creation (directed by Jon Amiel)

From dancing penguins to sailing the high seas during the Napoleonic Wars, Australian-based screenwriter John Collee brings a young Charles Darwin to life in his latest project Creation. I had a chat to Collee a few weeks back about this, that and the other thing, and have put together a neat little yarn on his work with Creation here. However, Collee also told me some crazy stories about collaborations with Guillermo del Toro and Steven Spielberg, and forth coming projects, which I will tie together in another story over the next few days. Stay tuned baboons.

When Scottish-born screenwriter John Collee, the writer behind Oscar-winning films such as Happy Feet and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, sat down to write a biopic of Charles Darwin, he hit a wall. He did not want to portray the English naturalist, who came up with the theories of evolution and natural selection, as just another `boring scientist'. So he turned to the writings of Darwin's great, great grandson Randal Keynes, who presented the scientist in a unique light.

``The Darwin you get on screen is always the guy with the beard and he has always been portrayed as this sober and rather boring intellectual,'' says Collee.
``Whereas the Darwin that comes out in the descriptions by Randal (Keynes) is of this charming, young dad.
``You get this really human perspective which is also taken from all of his kids who wrote stories about him.
``A guy you thought you knew through his science actually comes across as this fabulous family man.''

For Collee, who has lived in Sydney for over decade with his wife and children, this is someone to whom he could relate. He used Keynes biography of Darwin, Annie's Box, as the basis for the screenplay Creation, a new film directed by Jon Amiel. Starring Paul Bettany as Darwin and Jennifer Connelly as his wife Emma, Creation follows Darwin in the lead up to publishing On The Origin Of Species, where he struggles to find a balance between his revolutionary theories and the relationship with his religious wife, whose faith contradicts his work. The couple are also battling to come to terms with the death of their 10-year-old daughter Annie, who had scarlet fever. Despite having seen and achieved many things, Collee says he choose to focus on this chapter of Darwin's life because it `represented something about the modern condition'.

``I like writing films about ideas and there are powerful ideas in this and they crystalise around a tragic event; the death of child,'' says Collee.
``They (Darwin and Emma) were very much in love, they had 10 kids, they were very inter-dependent on each other, but she was completely Christian and he was a scientist.
``The miraculous thing about their relationship was that it worked and that they were able to live so closely together.
``So it's about the resolution of science and religion, and how they find an alternative to the language of religion and of science, with love.''

Having worked with Bettany before on Master and Commander, Collee says although he tried not to write the role for him specifically, but he kept coming to mind due to his `uncanny resemblance' to a young Darwin.

``He came to mind more and more as I wrote the script but I try not to write with someone in mind because of the nature of the business,'' he says.
``But young Darwin looked very much like Paul Bettany and when we were writing Master and Commander Weir had a young Darwin as the model for `the Doctor' and I kept getting the memory of Paul as that character.
``There were lots of things that made me keep going back to him.
``And Paul gave Jennifer the script to read and she then wanted to play Emma.
``Because they're married in real life they bring that context to the roles too.''

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Collee Gets Creative {movie}