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Darwin Correspondence Project

The Darwin and Human Nature film series

We chose four films to cover a broad chronology from the early 19th to the early 20th century; and a range of themes, including teaching Darwinism, slavery and race, degeneration in Victorian society, the boundaries between normal and abnormal in the nineteenth-century sideshow, and the tension between science and art. We wanted a good mix between films that were difficult to see on the big screen and old favourites that deserved another airing.

The most important criteria for selection were films that would make surprising connections to Charles Darwin’s work on human nature, and that contained though-provoking material to facilitate an interesting discussion at the end of each screening. Finally, all the films offered an account of real events, which could be questioned and discussed in the light recent historical scholarship.

The programme ran from 22 to 31 October 2012 at Cambridge Arts Picturehouse, as part of Cambridge Festival of Ideas.



Monday 22 October 2012:  Inherit the Wind 
Speakers: Joe Cain (University College, London) and David Kirby (University of Manchester) 
Director: Stanley Kramer. Starring: Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Gene Kelly. 
USA 1960. 128 mins, b/w.

Wednesday 24 October 2012: The Elephant Man 
Speaker: Vanessa Toulmin (University of Sheffield) 
Director: David Lynch. Starring: Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft. 
USA 1980. 124 mins, b/w.

Monday 29 October 2012: Proteus: A Nineteenth-Century Vision 
Speaker: Nick Hopwood (HPS, Cambridge)
Director: David Lebrun. Starring: Marian Seldes, Corey Burton, Richard Dysart. 
USA 2004. 60 mins.

Wednesday 31 October 2012: Black Venus (Vénus Noire) 
Speakers: James Moore (Open University) and Sadiah Qureshi (University of Birmingham) 
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche. Starring: Yahima Torres, Andre Jacobs, Olivier Gourmet. 
France/Belgium 2010. 159 mins. In French, Afrikaans and English, with English subtitles.


Listen to the invited speakers
Joe Cain and David Kirby on Inherit the Wind

Vanessa Toulmin on The Elephant Man

Nick Hopwood on Proteus

James Moore and Sadiah Qureshi on Black Venus


Read Sadiah Qureshi on Black Venus

Proteus, the 'Unidentified Film Object'