It’s only taken them 16 years, but National Geographic has moved into scripted drama, with the launch of Genius, a miniseries on the life of Albert Einstein.
This 10 part series sees Geoffrey Rush as the elderly famed physicist, with Johnny Flynn as young Albert.
Taking place over two timelines in Europe and America, it is in part directed by Ron Howard, who co-produces with Brian Grazer and Gigi Pritzker.
The storylines intercut between elder and younger Einsteins. In Germany 1922 the elder is battling rising anti-Semitic politics and the Nazi movement. Albert is unconventional, wanting the affections of his pretty assistant at the same time as advocating non-monogamy with wife Elsa (Emily Watson). But the dangerous political forces pose a far more immediate threat, prompting Elsa to suggest they leave Berlin urgently.
In 1894 young Albert, frustrated by teaching methods he sees as beneath his skill level, is viewed as a rebel. But when his father (Robert Lindsay) tells him the family is moving to Italy without him, he feels abandoned, eventually moving to university in Switzerland where he meets fellow physics student Mileva (Samantha Colley). The matching of minds leads to a whirlwind romance…
But elderly Einstein, accepting Berlin has grown too violent, looks to the US with Elsa. Standing in his way is sour US consulate official Raymond Geist (Vincent Kartheiser) acting on behalf of J. Edgar Hoover.
The storylines swing like a pendulum between old / young Einstein presumably to insert Geoffrey Rush, and a recognisable Einstein, into the first episode. This is somewhat disconcerting but the fact both Rush and Johnny Flynn are so adept helps the transition (I’m unclear how both storylines will meet in the middle, so to speak…).
Watching Geoffrey Rush as a philandering Einstein (including a sex scene right at the top of the series) was unexpected, but points for commitment.
Filmed in Prague, Czech Republic, the miniseries also benefits from some romantic European locations, all enhanced by a score from Hans Zimmer.
National Geographic have since indicated Genius will return as an anthology with another star subject.
While Genius doesn’t strike me as required viewing, it’s a good start as scripted content and a promise of more to come.
Genius airs 8:30pm Monday on National Geographic.