Science I first saw the award winning 'Life Story' (shown last night on BBC Four) at university with a cloistered library not unlike those featured in the film. I was captivated. It's a dramatised reconstruction of the events of 1952-3 which led up to the publication of the double helix structure for DNA. In one corner we have Jim Watson and Francis Crick, whose method seems to involve talking the subject to death with each other and their piers until inspiration comes; in the other is Rosalind Franklin a strict methodologist who like a detective needs to know how all the clues fit together before she can come to a conclusion.

The piece was made under the wing of the Horizon production team during a golden age for the programme. The science is at the forefront of the story and the dialogue is needfully technical in places; just in an opening scene set in Paris everyone speaks the native tongue so the scientist blurt the language at each other and it does need some concentration to keep up (although diagrams are helpfully drawn throughout). But apart from that the characterization is perfect; it might not be completely accurate (which I'll come to in a minute) but we very much get under the skin of the factionalised characters presented.

There is a real chemistry between Jeff Goldblum (Watson) and Tom Piggot-Smith (Crick) as they bound about the streets and hallways of Oxford rattling through theory after theory. Juliet Stevenson seems to have the harder task making Franklin sympathetic, but she carries it off perfectly; this is woman whose colleagues find intimidating and difficult; but it's that she's a woman in a man's world who wants to be treated with the same professional courtesy. Her colleagues are granted a privacy she is not.

Crick devoted a chapter of his biography 'What Mad Pursuit’ to the film. An article at the National Centre for Biotechnology Education describes his feelings:
"Although several incidents had been shifted in time and space to enhance the drama, Crick considered it to be a reasonably accurate account and a success. He thought that the sympathetic portrayal of Rosalind Franklin in particular was well-observed, although the scriptwriter had put careless words into her mouth that she, in his opinion, would not have said (Crick and his wife Odile came to know Rosalind quite well before her death). Goldblum's gum-chewing portrayal of Jim, however, Crick thought too manic (Jim Watson had refused to co-operate with the BBC over the production, saying that the film would be too dull).
In one scene, though, Watson was underplayed. He was asked, at a fancy-dress ('tarts and vicars') party, whether he was a real clergyman. In the film, Goldblum is mute, but in real life, Crick recalls, Watson replied that he was and sustained a half-hour long conversation with his young American questioner. Crick recounts her annoyance when she eventually discovered that Watson was not a priest at all.
Watson seems to have softened a little bit. In an interview he gave recently to Bio-IT he said:
” At first I didn't like it, because he (Jeff Goldblum) was unpleasant. But then people said, 'You were!' … (If HBO were to remake it now) well, I used to say John McEnroe, the young McEnroe was the right sort, and the tennis scenes would be better. Goldblum doesn't play tennis ... Or Ben Stiller ... I liked him in 'There's Something About Mary' — that's a great movie!

At least in the United States, I was the only young person who wasn't Jewish; all my friends were Jewish. I thought it was really strange — I'm the only non-Jew, and they cast Jeff Goldblum! But then I realized, I'm culturally Jewish. My mother never believed in the New Testament, you know, 'The meek shall inherit the earth, love thy enemies ...’
In the final moments of the film as the ‘race’ reaches it’s climax we see Crick creating a three dimensional model of DNA from chemistry apparatus (just like that found in a typical secondary school chemistry lab) as Franklin scribbles her theories away on paper. They’re both heading the same direction Crick creating the words which appear on the printed page. But Franklin misses a vital point of reference and Crick completes his model. The final moments of the film are an epic Kubrickian pass through the model. It was an exact replica of the original and it's fate can be found here along with other examples and ideas on how you can build your own.

Along with the recent Copenhagen this is one of the great films about men (and women) of science and has always deserved a wider distribution. With any luck now that seemingly everything has been released on DVD this will turn up as well so more people can see it. [although a VHS version can be bought here at the not very pocket friendly £125 if you're a teacher or lecturer]

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