a fictionalised homage to the last days of director James Whale
Incapacitated by a stroke and tended to by his dour housekeeper Hanna, former Hollywood golden boy James Whale of The Bride of Frankenstein fame convalesces at home, well aware that his career and days of sexual excesses are behind him. Yet into his world enters one Clayton Boone; a handsome gardener whose manly physique rekindles Whale's interest in
life and for a few moments, makes him forget that his mind and body are failing him, haunted as he is by sudden flashbacks of times past. Opposites in almost every sense of the word, sexuality included, the two come to form a close bond. Only is friendship all that is on the mind of James Whale OR has he an entirely separate agenda?
Directed and adapted in Academy® Award winning style by Bill Condon from the novel Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram, this exquisite feature pays a fictionalised homage to the last days of director James Whale. In doing so, it paints a vivid picture of a man who in an era when most homosexuals stayed prudently in the closet, was one of the few who remained unapologetic about their sexuality and alongside George Cukor, showed Hollywood that frankly my dear, they didn't give a damn! Yet such sexual openness, coupled with a highly personal directorial style would eventually cause Whale to fall out of favour with the studio top brass. No longer able to command the films that interested him, he spent his final years in self-enforced exile, a period that saw his declining mental and physical health culminate in his death in May 1957, when he was found floating face down in his swimming pool.
Yet at the time of his suicide the exact circumstances surrounding his death remained somewhat unclear, given his "I must have peace and this is the only way" suicide note was originally withheld. And it is that grey area that this feature plays with. Yet in doing so and inspite of the polished work from Brendan Fraser as Frankenstein-like Clayton Boone and Lynn (Best Supporting Actress) Redgrave's compelling portrayal of Hanna; a deeply religious woman who dotes on Whale like a surrogate wife, only to be repulsed by his homosexual openness, this remains the Ian McKellen show, who in a tour-de-force performance delivers Whale's very being; namely the spirit of a man whose full potential was ultimately cut short by the studio élite and the ingrained homophobia of the time.
And that is what stays with you long after the end credits have rolled, given this character-driven piece remains a perfect example of what professional acting, fine direction and dedicated filmmaking is all about. It is a film that is indicative of the first class storytelling that the real Whale would have been immensely proud of, a work full of power and emotion and one whose numerous nominations and awards are so rightly deserved. Simply wonderful.
Lynn Redgrave | 1943 - 2010 | "She was a phenomenal actress, she could do comedy, tragedy, anything really - with absolute ease." [Michael Winner].
available on DVD as part of the MGM Home Entertainment catalogue
starring: Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser, Lynn Redgrave, Lolita Davidovich, David Dukes, Kevin J O'Connor,
Mark Kiely, Jack Plotnick, Rosalind Ayres, Jack Betts, Matt McKenzie, Todd Babcock, Pamela Salem,
Michael O'Hagan and Brandon Kleyla as Young Whale