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Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Entry updated 30 January 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (1994). American Zoetrope/TriStar Pictures/Japan Satellite Broadcasting, Inc/The IndieProd Company. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Producers include Francis Ford Coppola; coproduced by Branagh and David Parfitt. Written by Seph Lady, Frank Darabont, based on Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818; rev 1831) by Mary Shelley. Cast includes Branagh, Richard Briers, Helena Bonham Carter, John Cleese, Robert Hardy, Ian Holm, Tom Hulce, Celia Imrie, Cherie Lunghi, Robert De Niro and Aidan Quinn. 123 minutes. Colour.

Branagh directs this as full-blooded (and extremely bloody) Gothic melodrama, truer to the original plot than almost all previous adaptations, but with thoughtful twists of his own. Much is made of birthing imagery, both literal and in the case of the monster's creation, metaphorical, perhaps showing an awareness of those readings of the original that emphasize the relevance of Mary Shelley's miscarriage shortly before writing the book, and her mother's death from blood poisoning shortly after giving birth to her. Indeed, when the obsessive Victor Frankenstein (Branagh) creates a bride for the monster, he does so out of body parts of Justine, an innocent accused of a murder committed by the monster, and Elizabeth (Bonham Carter), his fiancée murdered by the monster in revenge for his isolation. The Creature, played by De Niro in make-up a long way removed from the familiar nuts-and-bolts square-headed Karloff version, is good at grief, rage and despair. The odd post-modern touch decorates what is generally a rollicking historical costume drama. The film is, in its eccentric and uneven way, quite distinguished, and certainly sensitive to the issues raised by the book and the circumstances of its writing. It is more a film about death (and reversing it) than creating life, and much is made of a grim cholera epidemic. [PN]


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