It's true, Mr. and Ms. Hollywood Producer, Nash, Hawking, Turing were great and all, and their stories brought big bucks and a few Oscars rolling your way, but come on! When it comes to Hollywood science biopics, what about The Man? I mean his discoveries changed how we see our place in nature, who we are, where we came from! His life was totally blockbuster Hollywood movie material! Okay, here's my pitch:
We open with a shot of a rascally but inquisitive young boy collecting beetles and playing with dogs outside his lovely 19th century English estate. His father, over 200 pounds, marches up to the boy and bellows, "Charles, you care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family."
We cut to Charles, now in his young twenties saying goodbye to Fanny Owen, a very pretty young woman, before he departs on his 5-year voyage as a naturalist on the HMS Beagle. Months later, as the Beagle arrives in Rio, Charles receives a letter. It is from Fanny who is now engaged to another man. Cut back and forth between young Darwin reading the note in disbelief and Fanny back in England embracing her new fiancé. No music or sounds except the roll of the waves against the side of the Beagle. A tear forms in Darwin's eye. It drops onto the stuffed remains of a Galapagos mockingbird, next to a handwritten note reading, "Each mockingbird species unique to individual island? Investigate further."
In a startling moment in the Galapagos, surrounded by unusual and primitive looking creatures, Darwin notices that the animals and plants of the archipelago resemble the animals and plants of mainland South America. He begins to question (blasphemy!) whether species might change over time. Darwin gets into arguments with the temperamental Captain Fitzroy, a devout fundamentalist, over natural history and over the morality of slavery.
While doubling Cape Horn, a monstrous storm, the worst Captain Fitzroy ever encountered, pummels the Beagle. Two other ships are demolished. Three huge roller hit the Beagle in deadly succession. For a moment, the Beagle's position is critical. Should another wave strike, the ship, and Darwin with it, "might have been numbered among the many of her class which have disappeared." Fitzroy, in a Best-Supporting-Actor moment, emotes how lucky they are to be alive.
Aboard the Beagle are three Fuegian "savages" who had been taken hostage by Captain Fitzroy on a previous trip and brought back to England to be "civilized." We see one of the captives, known as Jeremy Button, speaking English and conducting himself like a gentleman. Fitzroy returns the captives, now wearing "proper" clothes, to their homeland islands around Tierra del Fuego, with the anticipation they will spread Christianity and their newly instilled values among the "heathens." A few months after the "reformed" Fuegians are returned to their native home, the Beagle returns to check in. Orundellico, previously known to the sailors as Button, is seen emaciated, naked except for a loincloth, and long-haired. He is offered the opportunity to return to England. He says no.
After the arduous 5-year journey, the Beagle returns, and the homesick Darwin runs off the deck onto England's shore. He becomes a respected naturalist and country gentleman, but works secretly for decades on his radical theories. He falls in love with and marries Emma, his first cousin. Charles says: "I marvel at my good fortune that she, so infinitely my superior in every single moral quality, consented to be my wife... She has earned the love and admiration of every soul near her." It's a Hollywood love affair, 19th-century-English style. They have 10 children.
We meet the truly adorable and energetic 10-year-old girl, Annie. Charles has a special connection with his eldest daughter, whom he describes as having a "buoyant joyousness," which "radiated from her whole countenance and rendered every movement elastic and full of life and vigour... It was delightful and cheerful to behold her." Yet Annie dies at the age of 10 in 1851. Charles is devastated. And Emma, the loving and devout mother and wife—well, let's just say roles like this just don't come around often for top actresses.
For decades, Darwin keeps his revolutionary scientific ideas quiet, in part to build a better case, and in part not to upset his beloved Emma, who is devoutly religious. Then, in the spring of 1858, out of nowhere Darwin receives a letter from Alfred Wallace, who outlines the theory of natural selection for which Darwin had been building evidence for over 20 years! Should Darwin allow his life’s work and his own recognition to be usurped? Darwin's torment is palpable. Academy voters mark their ballots.
The publication of On The Origin of Species causes an uproar in the scientific world and in the public. Some of England's most prominent figures square off at Oxford University. "Is it through your grandmother or your grandfather that you descended from apes?" Bishop Samuel Wilberforce asks Thomas Henry Huxley, to snickers in the audience.
"I wouldn't be ashamed to have a monkey for an ancestor," Huxley answers, "But I would be ashamed to be connected to a man who wastes the great gift of his mind to obscure the truth." Darwin's defenders erupt in cheers, and we cut to similar conflicts and arguments throughout the world.
In the end, Darwin's insights revolutionize our understanding of our place in the natural world and our understanding of the evolution of complexity without a designer. No other thinker in the modern world has transformed our understanding of the big questions—our origin, our place, our connections—as did Charles Darwin.
What's that? You're sold! Great! Sure, I'll write the screenplay. Have your people call my people. What actor should play Darwin? Good question, I don't know, let me ask my readers. I’ll also get their input on the major plot points of my script.