Life Story (1987 film)

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Life Story
The Race for the Double Helix.jpg
VHS cover art using the alternate U.S. title
Directed by Mick Jackson
Produced by Mick Jackson
Written by William Nicholson
James Watson
Starring Jeff Goldblum
Tim Pigott-Smith
Edited by Robin Brightwell
Jim Latham
Distributed by BBC
Release date
14 September 1987
Running time
97 minutes
Language English

Life Story (known as The Race for the Double Helix or Double Helix in the United States) is a 1987 TV film dramatisation of the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953. The film was directed by Mick Jackson for the BBC's Horizon science series and won several prizes including the 1988 BAFTA TV Award as the Best Single Drama.


The film tells the story of the rivalries of the two teams of scientists attempting to discover the structure of DNA. Francis Crick and James D. Watson at Cambridge University and Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin at King's College London.

The film manages to convey the loneliness and competitiveness of scientific research but also educates the viewer as to how the structure of DNA was discovered. In particular, it explores the tension between the patient, dedicated laboratory work of Franklin and the sometimes uninformed intuitive leaps of Watson and Crick, all played against a background of institutional turf wars, personality conflicts and sexism. In the film Watson jokes, plugging the path of intuition: "Blessed are they who believed before there was any evidence." The film also shows why Watson and Crick made their discovery, overtaking their competitors in part by reasoning from genetic function to predict chemical structure, thus helping to establish the then still-nascent field of molecular biology.


The film was directed by Mick Jackson and includes music composed by Peter Howell of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The main theme is the Le Grand Choral by Georges Delerue, first used in La Nuit Americaine. For the film they recreated the detailed, 1950s-style, molecular models that were used.


In his book What Mad Pursuit,[1] Francis Crick said that there were a few inaccuracies, such as portraying Watson as too manic and as always chewing gum but summarised his opinion of the film as "it tells a good story at a good pace so that people from all walks of life can enjoy it and absorb some of its lessons. All in all, Life Story must be considered a success. In other hands it could easily have been nothing quite as good."


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