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