Charles Darwin Disney film: Adventure movie will give naturalist the Indiana Jones treatment

The Hollywood production will shine fresh light on the Father of Evolution

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The Independent Culture

He is generally remembered as a bearded, balding, rather grandfatherly figure. But Charles Darwin looks set to be given the Indiana Jones treatment after Disney bought the rights to an adventure film based on his life.

The Hollywood production is expected to shine a new light on the Father of Evolution, telling the story of his formative travels before he wrote On the Origin of Species.

Darwin experts and descendants of the 19th-century British naturalist welcomed the project yesterday. They told The Independent that a film of his sea-faring adventures could encourage millions of young people to learn about the importance of his work.

Oscar-winning writer Stephen Gaghan (Getty Images)

The Oscar-winning writer of Traffic, Stephen Gaghan, who also wrote and directed George Clooney film Syriana, is behind the project.

Laura Keynes, great-great-great-granddaughter of Darwin, said: “A Disney Charles Darwin? The mind boggles, He was quite dashing in his younger years. I think this project is quite exciting, it sounds like fun.”

The project is in its earliest stages and few details have been released, but it is likely to cover Darwin’s five years aboard HMS Beagle, which set out in 1831 around South America, to Australia and South Africa.

English survey ship HMS Beagle in the Straits of Magellan during its circumnavigation of the globe with Captain Robert Fitzroy and scientist Charles Darwin aboard (Getty)

David Norman, Odell fellow in the natural sciences at Christ’s College, Cambridge, said a portrayal of Darwin as an adventurer was not far-fetched. “If you look at the records of him as a young man he was a strong, powerful, athletic and a bit of a daredevil.

“The image passed down from generation to generation is of the old guy with the big beard, a worried expression and ill health,” he continued.

“There is an element of an Indiana Jones-style adventurer in his early life and it stands in strong contrast to the man who was ailing in the latter part of his life.”

The Beagle voyage, which was commissioned to chart South America, proved a formative experience for Darwin, who explored the region extensively.

Sea lions on the rocky shore of Ochoa beach on the Galapagos Island of San Cristobal (Getty)

Alison Pearn, associate director of the Darwin Correspondence Project at Cambridge University Library, said: “His is a real adventure story. It would be great if there’s something to introduce Darwin as a young man to a wider audience.”

She said his adventures included being caught in an earthquake in Chile. He found himself in Buenos Aires when a riot broke out and rode with gauchos to the south of Patagonia. Darwin also explored the Galapagos Islands, visited volcanoes and discovered huge fossils.


“There is plenty of material,” Dr Pearn said. “I hope they are buying lots of copies of the first volume of his correspondence. It could be done really well.”

Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, which was published in 1859, established all species were descended from common ancestors.

Dr Pearn said: “Darwin showed the connectedness of all living things. It’s much wider than just the place of humans; it’s every living thing. He didn’t invent the term or concept of evolution but he did give us a mechanism for how evolution could produce the amazing variety of life we see from a single common ancestor.”

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, coming face to face with a Cobra in 1981's 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'

Disney will be hoping the film performs better at the box office than Creation, a 2009 biopic starring Paul Bettany as Darwin. The earlier film grossed less than $1m – which was blamed on poor distribution in the US because of lower public acceptance of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

News Darwin is to be re-cast as an Indiana Jones figure could not have come at a better time. A poll of 10,000 conducted by Empire magazine named the fictional archaeologist, played by Harrison Ford in four films, as the greatest film character of all time.