The scriptwriter explains why he considers his Charles Darwin biopic a 'ghost story'.
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29 Oct 2013 - 10:14 AM  UPDATED 31 Oct 2013 - 5:34 PM

Scriptwriter John Collee will be available to answer questions on Twitter this Saturday evening during Creation, which airs at 9.30pm on SBS One.

Scriptwriter John Collee used the ghost of Charles Darwin's dead daughter to bring the scientist to life in Creation – and to effectively make the point that Darwin was tortured by the thought of publishing his influential theories on evolution and natural selection.

Darwin's theories were rooted in science and challenged the notion that God created the world. He wasn't feeling the pressure because of his own religious beliefs; he was feeling it because he knew religion bonded society and was important to his beloved wife, his cousin Emma.

The film Creation bills itself as being the story of how Darwin's 1859 book, 'On the Origin of the Species', came to be written. A Sydney-based Scot, Collee based the script on the 2011 book 'Annie's Box' written by Darwin's great, great grandson Randal Keynes.

“It is a kind of domestic biography of Darwin which made the point that creativity and daily working/family life are all connected,” Collee told me. “Darwin's relationship with his daughter Annie and his resistance to writing the book were the bits I most wanted to use, so I wrote it as a ghost story to bring Annie, Charles and Emma together in time.”

Darwin was devastated by the death of his daughter, aged 10 years, and the decision to introduce the ghost of Annie into the story makes Creation not just a portrait of Darwin struggling with his work but a beautiful essay on fatherhood and grief.

“I normally write quite linear stories so (the director) Jon Amiel encouraged me to do a lot of interweaving of past and present … He and l have been close for a long time and we collaborated closely. Some scenes didn't get shot due to an over-run in the shooting schedule, which was a shame, and we disagreed about the very end: I thought Annie should leave with the postman, Jon thought she should return to the family. Jon won that one.”

Collee is talking about the scenes immediately after the manuscript is finally sent off to the publishers.

Creation demonstrates the extent to which Darwin struggled with ill health.

“Nineteenth Century medicine was very inaccurate so there's no way of knowing,” Collee says, when asked the nature of Darwin's ailment. “He probably suffered from more than one disease: some recurrent or chronic gut problem plus Meniere's Disease which causes dizziness, plus a neurotic reaction to stress. Whatever the underlying gut problem it couldn't be too serious as he lived to the age of 73.”

Asked whether the project stands out from his other work – including Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World – Collee said it is “all of a piece: the environmentalism, the interest in male friendship and the conflict between science and religion”.

Not long after writing Creation he gave a speech about becoming a writer, the tricks of scriptwriting and some of his passions. If it prompts any questions, you are very welcome to ask them on Saturday.