Kenneth Branagh Picks Up the Pieces in Mary Shelley's Monster
Buffalo News, November 5 1994
by Barry Koltnow
Director Kenneth Branagh knows
that some people who watch his film "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein,"
which opened Friday, will be shocked by what he has done to the
classic Gothic horror tale of a mad scientist and the creature
he brings to life.
These people inevitably will
wonder about the absence of Igor, the demented assistant, and
the inclusion of Victor Frankenstein's love interest, Elizabeth.
They'll ask why the creature speaks so eloquently -- or why he
speaks at all -- and why the story starts out in the Arctic,
of all places.
Branagh expects those reactions,
because those are exactly the same reactions he had two years
ago when he read Shelley's novel, written in 1818, in preparation
for making the film.
"Right there on Page 1,
I said, 'What the heck are we doing in the Arctic?' and the questions
never stopped," he said. "We have all grown so accustomed
to all those screen versions of 'Frankenstein' that we have forgotten
that Mary Shelley had something entirely different in mind.
"People expect to see the
story of the madman and his Neanderthal creation, and I thought
there was no reason to go over the same ground. The same people
who will complain about the changes we've made are the ones who
complain that Hollywood follows a formula and has stopped being
"Well, we are indeed a different
version, and I want people to think of the word 'original' when
they think of 'different.' We give them plenty of dark and horrific
moments, but we go beyond that as well.
"That's because 'Frankenstein'
goes beyond other horror stories. There are so many layers to
this story, layers about family and rejection and the cruelty
of mankind toward anyone who looks different. It's a much richer
story than 'Dracula,' and I think it touches us much deeper than
In this version, Branagh stars
as the young medical student who yearns to prove that life can
be created in a laboratory. Robert De Niro is the hideous creature,
and Helena Bonham Carter plays Elizabeth, Victor's adopted sister
and great love of his life.
"Elizabeth is only talked
about in the book, and I felt that had to be changed," the
director said. "It seemed ridiculous that she would not
question what he was up to, and I felt we had to have her voice
in our story.
"Considering how times have
changed in attitudes toward women's roles in films, it would
not seem right to have her in the story just as a love interest.
Mary Shelley was a strong woman who I'm sure questioned Percy
Shelley, and I'm convinced she intended Elizabeth to be a strong
Obviously, Branagh, 33, is preparing
himself for the inevitable comparisons, but he's not a man who
shies from critics. After all, this is the man who in 1989 had
the audacity to remake "Henry V," when any student
of cinema could tell you that Laurence Olivier made the definitive
"Henry V" in 1945.
Branagh was nominated for acting
and directing Oscars for his film.
"Yes, yes, I've been there
before," he said with a sigh of resignation. "But I
believe the classics belong to everyone."
After the brash 28-year-old filmmaker
earned Hollywood kudos with "Henry V," he returned
to the screen as all-American private eye Mike Church in the
mystery-thriller "Dead Again." As in "Henry V,"
he directed and co-starred with his wife, Oscar-winning actress
He next directed the not-so-well-received
"Peter's Friends" and decided to make his fourth directorial
effort a classic, Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing."
Branagh (it rhymes with "Vanna"),
a native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, returned to the London
stage and was playing Hamlet when he was approached to direct
"Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." It was too inviting
to pass up, he said.
"It didn't take a rocket
scientist to see the connection between what Mary Shelley was
talking about and what was going on in our lives today,"
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