Darwin's Brave New World


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2009, Total Running Time 162 Minutes

Darwin’s Brave New World is the story of how four young voyagers to the Southern Hemisphere – Charles Darwin, Joseph Hooker, Thomas Huxley and Alfred Russel Wallace – revolutionized science and gave birth to an extraordinary theory about the evolution of life on earth.

Darwin’s voyage to the Southern Hemisphere in the 1830s changed him from a directionless rich kid bound for a career in the Church, into one of the most incendiary thinkers of our age. This five-year voyage stunned and stimulated the young Darwin; the biodiversity, the exoticism, even the brutality, of the Southern Hemisphere, was in staggering comparison to the England he had just left – and it laid the foundations of his very ‘dangerous idea’: evolution by means of natural selection.

This series also explodes some myths. Received wisdom has it that Darwin had his ‘eureka’ moment on the Galapagos Islands; nothing could be further from the truth. Some of his greatest insights into evolution and natural selection came during the final and often-ignored leg of his voyage to New Zealand, Australia and the Cocos-Keeling Islands.

Back in England, Darwin turned his back on scientific orthodoxy to secretively work on his explosive theory. During this period, he destroyed his health, lost his faith and took himself to the brink of social ruin. His marriage to his devout cousin, Emma, was central to his life but also brought Darwin’s struggle with his faith into painful focus. What emerges from this series is a portrait of Darwin as an ambitious and flawed man: one moment paranoid, bloody-minded and coolly manipulative; the next, courageous, compassionate and devoted. The drama features the people and the politics orbiting around Darwin as he moved cautiously towards publication of his masterpiece, On the Origin of Species.

The southern voyage was a transformative experience for anyone who undertook it. And so it was for Charles Darwin and three of the most important men in his life: Joseph Hooker, Thomas Huxley and Alfred Russel Wallace. All three made this journey to the southern lands and oceans and it was this shared experience, this bonding ‘of the salt’ as they called it, which created their lifelong friendship with Darwin and each other. Without his ‘fellow circumnavigators’, Darwin’s revolutionary theory might never have seen the light of day. Driven by ambition, friendship, even hatred, Hooker, Huxley and Wallace helped Darwin to formulate his theory, defend him from attack and eventually win the bitter public war for evolution.

Featuring a cast of Australian and Canadian actors and commentators such as controversial author and Oxford academic, Richard Dawkins, the renowned author and academic, Jared Diamond from the University of California in Los Angeles, the Canadian scientist and broadcaster, David Suzuki and Australian scholar and author, Iain McCalman, from the University of Sydney, this brilliant dramatised documentary tells the story of Charles Darwin’s struggle to produce one of the greatest scientific theories of our age and the roles played by Hooker, Huxley and Wallace – Darwin’s fellow voyagers to the Southern Hemisphere. It is a story of a group of young men who had a new and radical vision of the world and had the courage to pursue it.


Origins (54 Minutes) When 21-year-old Charles Darwin embarks on a five-year voyage to the Southern Hemisphere, it transforms him from a dilettante into a revolutionary and groundbreaking scientist. On the last and often-ignored leg of his voyage to New Zealand and Australia, Darwin goes further than ever before towards his radical theory of evolution: he witnesses the deadly competition between European settlers and the indigenous peoples, between the native animals and introduced species; in the coral islands of Cocos and Keeling off the Western Australian coast he discovers a world created through a struggle for survival, giving him an incredible insight into how life evolves. On his return to England in 1836, Darwin’s dangerous idea grows into an obsession. If life did evolve by natural means, where did that leave God? What about humans? Are we just another sort of ape? Darwin knew that if he ever went public with these incendiary ideas, the religious and scientific establishment would destroy him. But this ambitious 27-year-old can’t leave the idea alone. On the verge of dying from a mysterious disease, Darwin confides his work to two people: his devout wife, Emma, and a young botanist called Joseph Hooker who, like Darwin, has just returned from a voyage to the Southern Hemisphere.

Evolutions (54 Minutes) Darwin turns his back on scientific celebrity and becomes a virtual recluse, secretly gathering evidence for his theory of evolution. He is almost trumped by a rival book on evolution but finds a steadfast supporter in the young botanist, Joseph Hooker. Darwin’s faith is shattered by the death of his beloved daughter Annie but he is buoyed up by the return from Australasia of one of his greatest allies: the young firebrand, Thomas Huxley. Darwin knows he has found the men he needs to help him when he goes public with his ideas. Hooker and Huxley push Darwin to publish but events overtake everyone when a letter arrives from Indonesia. An obscure collector called Alfred Russel Wallace has come up with an evolutionary theory almost identical to Darwin’s own. Darwin is shattered and fears that 20 years of work has come to nothing.

Published and Be Damned (54 Minutes) After labouring in secret for 20 years, Charles Darwin is almost trumped by the obscure young naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, who has been in the southern world of Australasia for almost a decade. Shocked that someone else is drawing the same conclusions, Darwin knows that he must publish his own work post haste. Hooker helps to ensure that Darwin has priority over Wallace by arranging a joint reading of their theories, while Huxley sharpens his beak and claws in readiness to defend Darwin against the Church and scientific establishment. Wallace returns to England and immediately joins battle in defence of Darwin. On the Origin of Species is published to acclaim and attack and Darwin’s allies embark on a bitter and brutal public battle for Darwin’s idea and the future of science. The battle culminates with the legendary Oxford debate in which Hooker and Huxley go toe-to-toe with the reactionary forces of Church and the scientific establishment. Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution eventually triumph.

A Screen Australia National Documentary Program. © 2011 NFSA, ScreenWorld, Ferns Productions, NSW Film and Television Office.



Directors: Lisa Matthews (drama), Jason Bourque (documentary)

Principal Cast: Socratis Otto, Katie Fitchett, Joe Manning, Dan Spielman, Rick Jon Egan, Paul Gleeson, Anthony Simcoe, Paul Bertram, John Gregg, Matthew Waters, Simon Bossell, Simon Corfield

Featured People: Professor Iain McCalman, Professor Richard Dawkins, Professor Jared Diamond, Professor Mike Clout, Professor Janet Browne, Professor James Moore, Professor Mike Archer, Professor Jerry Coyne, Professor David Suzuki, Professor Toby Bradshaw, Professor Michael Ruse, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Stephen Hopper

Year: 2009

Total Running Time: 162 Minutes

Classification: G

Curriculum Links: Science (Biology), Biological Anthropology, Ecology, Environmental Studies, SOSE/HSIE, History, Studies of Religion, Philosophy, English and Media Studies.


SKU 200701300
Brand Film Australia

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