Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) – Kenneth Branagh

 

The final version of Frankenstein to be suggested for viewing by the Sci-Fi Chronicles book is this 1994 adaptation by actor/writer/director Kenneth Branagh. He takes on this version of the tale by creating a lush and beautiful looking period film. Despite the films he would later make, this one feels restrained, not quite stuffy but seems rather rigid in its crafting, even when Victor creates and conducts his experiments, which would seem to suggest a wild and manic nature. That being said, the film takes its cues heavily from the source material.

The cast sees Branagh as Victor Frankenstein, Robert DeNiro as the Creature, who plays the role with a touch of quiet self-hatred and sadness knowing how people see him. Helena Bonham-Carter plays Elizabeth, the Frankenstein family’s ward who claims Victor’s heart. Aidan Quinn plays the captain whose ship is icebound and comes across Frankenstein in his chase of his creation, and is the framing device for the rest of the story. Ian Holm is Victor’s father, Tom Hulce is his friend Clerval, and John Cleese is Waldman, a scientist accused of illegal experiments which lay the groundwork of Frankenstein’s own work. It’s a top shelf cast, and a film filled with amazing production values, costume and design.

The film introduces us to all the characters in their turn as Victor shares his tale, the cold expansive Frankenstein home filled with warmth only because of the love of the family, and the blossoming relationship between Victor and Elizabeth. But first, he must go to university, where he clashes with his professors over his beliefs, his obsession with creating life seems to be on the verge of ruining his own. But through Waldman’s notes, and his own drive, he begins to craft, to create, and while the little university town comes under quarantine for cholera, he finds success.

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However, the Creature escapes, believing he is hated by his creator, taking Frankenstein’s journal with him. He learns the truth of his existence, despised as it is, and seeks revenge on Victor, who in his turn, believes the creature perished in the epidemic.

All of the familiar beats of the story are here, the blind man, partnered this time with a family, the confrontation between man and his creation, the relearning of speech and reading, and of course the desire for a companion which drives the final act of the film forward. The Creature’s vengeance comes quickly as he knows exactly where to strike and he wreaks vengeance on Victor’s personal life, tearing it apart until he gets what he wants. From that point on the film strides in a gentlemanly way to its climax (it’s too restrained to break into a run), and Branagh wraps everything up nicely, and succinctly.

While beautiful to look at, it just lacks some of the passion and excitement one would hope for from a big budget version of the classic story. Still, it makes for a nice final (at this time) cinematic entry into the Frankenstein mythos.

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