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Creation - Randal Keynes interview

Creation, Randal Keynes

Interview by Rob Carnevale

RANDAL Keynes, the author of Annie’s Box and great, great grandson of Charles Darwin, talks about the movie Creation, why he’s proud of Jon Amiel’s work on the project, how he would sum up Charles Darwin and whether he’d be surprised that religion had survived given his theory on the origins of the species.

Q. History is littered with authors who have had their books severely tampered with by movie-makers. Were you nervous early on?
Randal Keynes: Well, I understood that the deal is you hand over, and that you have to understand when you sell the rights to the book for a film to be made, that they were going to take it the way they wanted. I was very nervous about doing that and I had had bad experiences before. What I would say is that I found, from the conversations that I had with John Collee and Jeremy Thomas first, and then Jon Amiel, I came to feel very strongly, very early great confidence that they had read my book the way that I wanted it to be read. And the best thing to do, therefore, was to leave them to make their movie. The result, I think, is absolutely wonderful. I’m the 1 in 1,000 satisfying customer.

Q. Would your great great grandfather be surprised that religion had survived?
Randal Keynes: I think many of his friends would have been surprised. I think that Thomas Huxley thought that science was the new way of looking at the world and was going to prevail. I think Darwin had a much better sense of how deep-rooted the instinct for faith and so on was. He knew it from his very close relationship with his wife, Emma. And that’s part of the film. I think he would have hoped that science would prevail. But he would not have been surprised it didn’t. He wouldn’t be surprised if he saw what was going on now. I think he would feel, though, that with the developments in molecular biology and the understanding of genetics that we now have, he’d feel we’re winning. And he’d be relaxed.

Q. How would you sum up Charles Darwin in a couple of paragraphs?
Randal Keynes: I would say he was a person with a passion for understanding and truth. He had an ability to observe and think as he watched about everything. He was questioning always, trying to find the reasons. Those qualities together just gave him the insight that was there to be seized at that point in time with developing knowledge. I think he would want to be remembered not so much by the theory of evolution by natural selection, as by his whole approach to understanding and knowledge. It has to do with having an open mind and taking any indications that you see and building on them.

Q. Do you have an example?
Randal Keynes: I think the moment in Darwin’s life which is, to me, the most breathtaking is when after having seen the possibility that all species change, and that all species that are similar may have a common ancestor, he realises: “Gosh, we humans may have a common ancestry with animals… and what’s the closest animal? Apes…. so, let’s go and see one.” When he goes to see Jenny [the orang-utan] he goes back to his home and, while everybody else whose seen Jenny, has said: “Yes, very similar… I don’t like this, there must be a difference, so let’s focus on the difference.” Darwin just opens his mind to the possibility that they are the same… that they have common nature. And he writes in this little private notebook: “Man, in his arrogance, considers that he’s a special creation by God – ie, sets himself above animals. More humble, and I believe true, to think him created from animals.” He’s just opening his mind to a possibility.

Why I mention all of this, is because the film shows that in an extraordinarily vivid and effective way. The sequence with Darwin engaging with his infant – with Annie as an infant – and then, having previously engaged with the orangutang, showing the comparison and then managing to tie together the death of Jenny and the death of Annie. It really makes a point right at the heart of Darwin’s thinking about our common nature with animals so important. And I thank Jon, John and Jeremy for having brought that insight to the film so brilliantly.

Read our interview with director Jon Amiel