Finding Altamira” — Hugh Hudson’s stately account of events surrounding the discovery of Paleolithic cave paintings in northern Spain in 1879 — addresses a fascinating chapter in archaeology. Marcelino de Sautuola was an amateur scientist who owned the property where the paintings were found. Though the cave itself was known, it was Marcelino’s young daughter, Maria, who first noticed the Stone Age renderings, largely of bison and other animals. Many call the Cave of Altamira, now a Unesco site, the Sistine Chapel of prehistory.

Mr. de Sautuola faced an uphill climb to prove the find’s legitimacy: Scientists of greater renown, especially the French prehistorian Édouard Cartailhac, vehemently disputed its authenticity. Mr. Hudson traces Mr. de Sautuola’s struggles, framing them largely both as a family drama and earnest history lesson. In Antonio Banderas, Mr. Hudson has a winning de Sautuola of personal modesty, scientific integrity and paternal warmth. Mr. Banderas, especially in scenes with Allegra Allen, as Maria, conveys scientific wonder with a touching grace. As Mr. de Sautuola’s wife, Conchita, Golshifteh Farahani has the regrettable role of a pious woman doubting her husband’s religious faith. Rupert Everett, almost unrecognizable with his head close-shaven, has a delicious turn as a priest sowing seeds of marital discord.

A sequence in which a distraught Maria dreams of bison running amok in her house uses subtle and yet intrusive computer animation. But José Luis Alcaine’s gorgeous cinematography, with its suggestions of Manet, reaffirms the reputation of Mr. Hudson (“Chariots of Fire”) as a master of historical re-creation.