The film tells the story of the rivalries of the two teams of scientists attempting to discover the nature of DNA. Francis Crick & James D. Watson at Cambridge University and Maurice Wilkins & 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 lab 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. Jokes Watson, plugging the path of intuition: "Blessed are they who believed before there was any evidence." The film also shows why Watson and Crick truly earned their discovery: they overtook 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. Nevertheless, Franklin would rightly have shared the Nobel Prize had she not died tragically of cancer before it was awarded. All of this is insightfully examined in the supplementary materials to the Norton Critical Edition of Watson's book The Double Helix (ISBN 0-393-95075-1), to which the film makes a fine companion.
Note that in the EDDE Entertainment VHS version (EDO280 1993), a few scenes are inexplicably (and confusingly) cut.