Rating: 8 / 10
Dayton, Tennessee is a small town in 1925, and too small for local reporter Charles Anderson who wants to make a big name for himself by going to the big city and working for legendary Baltimore Sun editor H.L. Mencken. His fiancee and coworker Rose is rooting for him, and when a legal battle in the town's courtroom garners attention from the national media, it looks like Charlie may have just the news story he needs to grab Mencken's attention.
Only, things don't go quite how he was expecting. He does get Mencken's attention, who is even willing to teach Charlie how to craft a news story. But this close-up tutelage lets Charlie see that his mentor won't let a little something like the truth get in the way of a good story. Mencken is more than willing to make up a story, if it will sell papers. Is Charlie willing to go that far to land the job he's been dreaming of?
In 1925 an anti-evolution law, which forbade the teaching of evolution in public schools, was challenged in a Dayton, Tennessee courtroom. John Scopes, a high school teacher, was charged with violating the law by teaching his students about Charles Darwin's theory.
The "Scopes Monkey Trial" pitted creationists vs. evolutionists and enlisted big name "stars": the Scripture-quoting, Bible-believing, 3-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution; and for the defense, Clarence Darrow, infamous for his defense of two indefensible child-killing clients. These big names got the attention of one other: Baltimore Sun editor H. L. Mencken. His columns largely influenced how the trial was perceived by the public - while the creationists won the court case, Mencken made sure that the evolutionists won the publicity battle.
Only a couple of cautions to consider. Charles is drunk as a skunk in one scene, though his fiancee's disappointment and disapproval makes this an object lesson in the idiocy of drinking to excess, so not too much to object to on that point. Also one character shouts "Hallelujah!" insincerely in a church service. I should add, because the film teaches about the implication of Darwinian thought, there is a subplot that deals with eugenics. This is a topic that our older children need to learn about, but is also too much information for a younger audience that doesn't yet need to know how horrible the world can be.
More than three decades later, the events of the trial were again fictionalized in the play (1955) and film Inherit the Wind (1960). Both presented creationists as ignorant, foolish, bigoted and even bloodthirsty (the film has the townspeople threatening to burn John Scopes!) and because the film was shown to generations of American public school children it has had a lasting impact on the way the creation/evolution debate is conducted. It can be given much of the credit for why creationist arguments are most often mocked, rather than answered.
Alleged is an enjoyable counter to Inherit the Wind, presenting a much more accurate account of the trial. It could be enjoyed as an above average Christian romance, but the setting makes this more than a fun little film. The historical importance of this event means this is a film for just about anyone. It is educational and informative, yes, but also fun, romantic, generally light, and quite well acted. Highly recommend for older teens and adults. See the trailer below.