Review: Frankenstein – The True Story / Cert: 12 / Director: Jack Smight / Screenplay: Christopher Isherwood, Don Bachardy / Starring: James Mason, Leonard Whiting, Michel Sarrazin, David McCallum, Jane Seymour, Nicola Paget, Tom Baker, John Gielgud / Release Date: March 10th
Fans of Mary Shelley’s classic Gothic horror tale of mad science and bodily reanimation have been understandably vexed by the travesty of I, Frankenstein currently stinking out multiplexes worldwide (were the words ‘from the Producers of Underworld’ not enough of a warning for you?). Hopefully they’ve found some solace in the slew of archive Frankenstein features which have been exhumed in anticipation of or in the wake of the modern Prometheus’s return to the silver screen. Like most adaptations of Frankenstein, this ambitious, sprawling 1973 two-part American TV mini-series takes liberties with the original text – generally a mercy as it’s a turgid read at best – but is still a faithful and visually stunning take on a story which sometimes seems just a bit too familiar.
After his younger brother tragically drowns, Victor Frankenstein (Whiting) becomes obsessed with the idea of bringing back life to the dead. A chance encounter with Dr Henry Clerval (McCallum) leads Victor into a course of experiments with solar energy to help realise Clerval’s dream of creating a race of physically perfect human beings constructed from salvaged body parts. But on the eve of his moment of triumph, Clerval dies. Victor carries on Clerval’s work and brings to life “Adam”, a stunning human facsimile who quickly becomes the toast of London society. But Clerval’s process is flawed and soon “Adam” begins to physically deteriorate and Victor starts to reject his inhuman creation…
For the most part, Frankenstein: The True Story is a rich and rewarding interpretation, casting the creature not as a monster but as an Adonis who slowly decays into a powerful, confused aberration. He’s worlds away from the neck-bolts and square head of the classic Universal movies; “Adam” is achingly sympathetic, almost pitiful as his friend Victor turns against him and he finds himself alone and confused in a world he never asked to be born into. The first ninety-minute instalment rattles along magnificently but the second half, where James Mason’s fruity Dr Polidori takes centre stage and Jane Seymour is introduced as the female ‘creature’ Prima, is less engaging and seems to have lost its focus as it adds flesh and character to the original storyline.
But it’s a gloriously impressive production – big bucks were spent on this one – with an intelligent script, breathtaking production design and earnest performances. It’s a slog at over three hours, but it’s recommended if you feel the need to wash your brain clean of the image of Aaron Eckhart’s six-pack creature fighting CGI demons.
Extras: Introduction by James Mason