There have, of course, been many screen adaptations of Frankenstein over the years, but the one I’m going to be talking about here in relation to the book is the 1994 version, directed by Kenneth Branagh.
This iteration seems to generally be considered the most faithful to the original novel, which is part of the reason I was keen to give it a go. I can absolutely see why it is regarded as so, as the main arc does indeed stick pretty close to Mary Shelley’s iconic story, albeit with a few extra bells and whistles to ramp up the drama. Unlike many other pop-culture versions of Frankenstein’s creation, I was glad to see that this one was as pitiable as he was monstrous; as indeed Shelley herself intended. This meant the integrity of the book’s core themes – like the moral ambiguity of pushing science too far; the risks of trying to overcome death; the destructive nature of blindly pursuing our obsessions; and the question over how we as a society truly make monsters – are all still largely intact.
All that said, there is something about the film that just never fully clicked for me. Though the story and themes are still there, the subtlety and nuance are gone. Everything feels a bit too extra, from the frantic direction to the overbearing soundtrack. This somewhat hectic feeling means that the emotional beats of the narrative can’t always resonate properly, as we are relentlessly rushed onto the next scene.
Alongside the big names heading up the cast, there are a number of well-known actors in supporting roles – including Ian Holm, John Cleese, Celia Imrie, and Richard Briers. I can’t say anyone’s performance blew me away, but I suspect this was due in part to the film’s overall sense of erratic melodrama. De Niro is certainly charismatic as The Creation, able to evoke the tricky blend of pity and revulsion. Bonham Carter is also ethereally captivating in the film’s climax, when her character is given a fate more theatrical and disturbing than in the book, yet undoubtedly more visually haunting too.
Ambitious and aesthetically striking, I suspect Branagh simply tried to accomplish too much in a runtime of less than two hours. Still, it was enjoyable enough, and I was glad to see a version that tried hard to honour the intent of Shelley’s masterpiece, even if it wasn’t always entirely successful.