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Darwin's Darkest Hour

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Starring Henry Ian Cusick ("Lost") and Frances O'Connor ("Mansfield Park"), Darwin’s Darkest Hour depicts the professional and personal trauma Charles Darwin endured the year before the publication of On the Origin of Species. Darwin's life's work, what he called "his abominable volume," is in danger of being scooped by Alfred Wallace; at the same time, one of his children is stricken by scarlet fever and one with diphtheria. His wife, Emma, is his rock--helping him through the turmoil even though his work challenges her deep Christian faith. We flash back with Charles to his journey as he figures out what he called "the mystery of mysteries" and come to understand why a letter from Wallace is such a bombshell. In the end, it is the remarkable, erudite Emma who will see Charles through this nightmare, even as one of her children dies of fever. Darwin's Darkest Hour brings to life the compelling human story behind the publication of one of history's most influential theories.


National Geographic makes superb use of its vast store of nature footage in Darwin's Darkest Hour, which dramatizes how Darwin wrestled with honor and ambition when a rival scientist was on the verge of publishing material exploring similar theories of how species are created. Darwin (Henry Ian Cusick, Lost) hesitated to publish from concerns about the religious controversy that might erupt; he held back until he was sure he had the evidence to substantiate his ideas about natural selection. Darwin's Darkest Hour suggests that his wife Emma (Frances O'Connor, Mansfield Park), though firm in her religious belief, pushed Darwin to secure the proof that his writings predated his rival's. Interwoven with this immediate conflict is the story of how Darwin conceived his theories in the first place--accompanied by gorgeous footage of rainforests and mountainsides, seals and seabirds, iguanas, tortoises, and much, much more. Darwin grappled with the industry of bees, the sex lives of barnacles, and the feeding habits of Venus flytraps.

Darwin's Darkest Hour provides both a sprightly exposition of a volatile branch of science (more than a hundred years later, his work continues to provoke violent responses) and beautiful illustrations of what obsessed this influential scientist. Also on the DVD is an excellent special feature about the Galápagos Islands, where Darwin found the most vivid illustrations of his ideas. --Bret Fetzer

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Henry Ian Cusick
  • Format: Multiple Formats, AC-3, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Nat'l Geographic Vid
  • DVD Release Date: November 17, 2009
  • Run Time: 102 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B002N1AE4G
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #101,827 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Darwin's Darkest Hour" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 6, 2009
Format: DVD
The British do historical movies so well and having seen this on PBS I am so looking forward to the DVD come November. For anyone not familiar with the facts of Charles Darwin's life and his wife Emma who while a devout Christian was his biggest fan and supporter even when he was attacked by religious zealots after his books were published.

The movie also shows his many children being loved, encouraged and mourned when some of them die and when two children are struck down with deadly diseases, such as small pox and diphtheria which were common. And what I so loved and wonder if many people who like or dislike the man, know what an ethical man he was.

Like when a young self made explorer (Alfred Wallace) seems to 'borrow' from some of the writings of Darwin, placing Darwin in an difficult position because he doesn't feel at ease tooting his own horn. Its nice that the movie disperses modern film segments to show various animals that Darwin encountered in his travels which led to some of his works like Origins of the Species. And the movie is so timely because it shows how in the 1820's and 1830's his father may have been a free thinker but the Unitarian church was seen as the church where Christians who had given up on Christianity went. And the movie notes Darwin felt that one could believe in a God and still believe in evolution.

The movie also shows the concern he had about his wife Emma being his first cousin, because he wondered aloud if the reason some of their children had died so young was because of genetic issues. Fact is tuberculosis, small pox and other diseases were the norm at the time.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Michael D. Barton on February 6, 2010
Format: DVD
(written on October 19, 2009)

I was sent a review copy of Darwin's Darkest Hour, the two-hour docudrama from NOVA/National Geographic, which aired on PBS on October 6th. I watched it last week, and here are my thoughts.

I have known about this Darwin film since late July, and had been looking forward to it for several reasons. One, I wondered how it would compare with the docudrama portions of the Evolution: Darwin's Dangerous Idea" episode of the series Evolution that aired on PBS in 2001. Two, having anticipated (and still looking forward to seeing) the film Creation (open in the UK and elsewhere, not in the US until December) featuring Paul Bettany as Darwin since at least September 2008, it was good to see another production looking at the same time period of Darwin's life (the post-Beagle, Origin-writing 1850s). I of course cannot compare Darwin's Darkest Hour to Creation, but I might have a comment or two based on reviews of Creation elsewhere.

Darwin's Darkest Hour begins in March 1858 in Ternate (in present-day Indonesia). We see a man in his jungle hut, in a malarial fever, murmuring to himself "Malthus," thoughts on human populations, "external pressures" as he jots down words onto paper. Before this scene ends, we see him preparing a letter to C Darwin Esq. This man, as we will find out soon, is Alfred Russel Wallace, naturalist and co-discoverer with Darwin of the theory of natural selection. It is this the delivery of this letter, from Wallace to Darwin, that becomes Darwin's darkest hour.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By MythMaker on October 11, 2009
Format: DVD
Old fashioned tv movie sticks to the facts & manages to compel both the heart & the mind. Yes, this actor does not physically resemble Charles Darwin in any way. And yes, Emma is used to stand in for the viewer unfamiliar with Darwin's life & work. Small quibbles. This is a really excellent little drama. I will watch it many times.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By CDEvansJr on March 8, 2011
Format: Amazon Instant Video
Program Description
This two-hour scripted drama tells the remarkable story behind the unveiling of the most influential scientific theory of all time, Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. The program is a special presentation from NOVA and National Geographic Television, written by acclaimed British screenwriter John Goldsmith and directed by John Bradshaw.

Darwin, portrayed by Henry Ian Cusick (Lost), spent years refining his ideas and penning what he called his "big book." Yet, daunted by looming conflict with the orthodox religious values of his day, he resisted publishing-until a letter from naturalist Alfred Wallace forced his hand. In 1858, Darwin learned that Wallace was ready to publish ideas very similar to his own. In a sickened panic, Darwin grasped his dilemma: To delay publishing any longer would be to condemn his greatest work to obscurity-the brilliant argument he had pieced together with clues from his voyage on the Beagle, his adventures in the Andes, the bizarre fossils of Patagonia, the finches and giant tortoises of the Galapagos, as well as the British countryside. But to come forward with his ideas risked the fury of the Church and perhaps a rift with his own devoted wife, Emma, portrayed by Frances O'Connor (Mansfield Park, The Importance of Being Earnest), who was a devout Christian.

"Darwin's Darkest Hour" is a moving drama about the genesis of a groundbreaking theory seen through the inspiration and personal sufferings of its originator.
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