Although British director Peter Greenaway is best known for feature films like The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, Prospero’s Books, and The Pillow Book, he has also completed several highly respected projects for television, including this 53-minute exploration of the life and work of Charles Darwin. Darwin is structured around 18 separate tableaux, each focusing on another chapter in the naturalist’s life, and each consisting of just one long uninterrupted shot. Other than the narrator’s voiceover, there is no dialogue.
As with most Greenaway films, the visual composition of individual scenes in Darwin reflects the director’s fascination with Renaissance painting (he was first trained as a muralist). In 2006, Greenaway even embarked on an ambitious series of video installations called Nine Classic Paintings Revisited, in which he applied his often controversial vision to The Last Supper, The Wedding at Cana and other famous artworks. You can watch an interview with the filmmaker about The Last Supper here. Even better, watch his 2010 UC-Berkeley lecture on the inspiration and philosophy behind the entire project, which we’ve included in our collection of 275 Cultural Icons. We’ve also added Darwin to our collection of Free Movies Online.
Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly.