Stars Andrew Gower, Lacey Turner, David Harewood
Things You Might Like
- Stunning performances from Gower and Harewood
- Palpable tension
- Outstanding modern-day retelling of a classic novel
Things You Might Not Like
- Musical numbers seem forced and in the way
- Turner, while brilliant, plays a dull character
Being both faithful to the novel and successfully providing a modern spin, this is the best adaptation of Frankenstein I have ever seen.
4 out of 5 Classic Retellings
Jonathan David Lim
Halloween is just one week away, and I am getting super excited. If you couldn’t guess by the common subject matter of the films I discuss, I love Halloween. It’s my favourite day of the year. So in light of that, I thought I would celebrate my favourite day by looking at my favourite monster: Frankenstein’s Creature.
Given my otherwise rebellious nature, however, I decided to approach the monster from a different angle. There are scores of reviews for Universal’s Frankenstein from 1931, which ensured Boris Karloff a lifetime of fame, and the template by which we now commonly associate the Creature’s look: bolts coming from his neck, a squared cranium, a staggering walk. So of course, I avoided this film.
Also avoided was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein from 1994. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, it has been widely panned by most critics, namely for Branagh’s acting. Despite his best efforts to remain as close to the source material as possible, and despite Robert De Niro’s incredible performance as the Creature, it was a miss.
This left me with only a few options left for reviewing the tale of a man and his monster. There is a short film from 1910 that tells the story of Frankenstein quite admirably, with incredible effects for how the Creature is created. Alas, I didn’t feel I could critique it adequately. However, I encourage you to see it for yourself:
Not bad, eh?
Then of course there are the Hammer Horror films that starred Peter Cushing as Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as the Creature. But again, as they are considered classics, I wanted to avoid it.
And then I came upon Frankenstein’s Wedding, which isn’t a film. It is, instead, a stage adaptation that was broadcast live on BBC Three in March 2011. So I thought, ‘Hey, yeah, this is obscure enough that it’ll suit my needs. Why not?’ And I am so very glad I thought that.
Frankenstein’s Wedding is a powerful adaptation of the original novel. Set in the modern day, and revolving around the wedding of Victor Frankenstein (Andrew Gower) to Elizabeth (Lacey Turner), the play jumps back and forth between live footage of the wedding to pre-recorded footage that tells the backstory. The creation of the Creature is particularly inspiring — in an effort to farm organs for transplant without the use of donors or stem cells, Victor has created a fully-functional human body, with all the bare essentials. Documenting the momentous event on a home camera, Victor puts his plans into motion, and pumps the body with vital fluids. Yet things don’t go as planned, and the body comes to life. The Creature (David Harewood) is born.
It’s an extraordinary scene. Harewood writhes and gasps as life takes hold of the fully-formed man. Arising from the bench, he moans in pain, unable to comprehend the onslaught of senses. Victor, terrified, rejects the Creature. ‘You weren’t supposed to be able to feel, to think,’ he insists, a beautiful departure from the oft-quoted revelry of Colin Clive‘s ‘He’s alive! Alive!’ from 1931. Angered and confused, the Creature takes to the streets and back alleys of Leeds, where he learns to speak, read, and most of all, swear revenge on the man who created him, only to cast him aside.
Harewood is nothing short of incredible; his depiction of the Creature is heart-wrenching. Unlike Karloff’s or Lee’s mute abominations, Harewood’s is a Creature of agony. He whiles away his days in constant pain, both emotional and physical, his scars struggling to heal, his mind struggling to understand. Despite his efforts to make contact with the rest of humanity, he is cast aside at every turn. One shot in particular says it all: standing atop the roof of a church building, the Creature looks out into the world and screams. But there is no sound. He is utterly alone.
He gives Victor an ultimatum — to build him a wife, or Victor will be destroyed. He has until his wedding day to do so. Gower’s Frankenstein is magnificent. Young, full of vigour and ideas, his tampering with the natural order of things has turned disastrous. He must now decide whether to follow through with either the Creature’s plans or his own. The mounting tension is palpable, and when it all comes together, it makes for a monumental climax.
Frankenstein’s Wedding does have its drawbacks, though. As this was meant to be a live event rather than a film, there are a few song-and-dance numbers that I don’t feel were entirely appropriate. Taking the Moulin Rouge approach to musicals, Frankenstein’s Wedding is filled with pop songs, all played by a live band. While the actual score is nice, it’s more than a little off-putting when they break into the musical numbers. If it weren’t for the strength of the adaptation from novel to stage, a harsher critic would have derided it as Frankenstein v Top of the Pops.
Also, we aren’t given too much of Elizabeth’s character. We understand she is Victor’s bride to be, but after that, there isn’t much left of her. She’s the MacGuffin — Victor wants to save her, the Creature wants to destroy her. The only semblance of character that we are offered are through the scopes of her friends and, of course, through Victor. But after that, we are shown practically nothing, which is disappointing. Turner is a fine actor and singer, and it is a shame her talents are lost on such a two-dimensional character.
But other than that, it’s a fantastic Frankenstein adaptation, and my new favourite. Now if only BBC Three would get their act together and release it for home video.
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Jonathan David Lim
Review by Jonathan David Lim, editor-in-chief.