The 1818 book Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley is an oft done story told in a multitude of movies and all of them differ in the retelling of it and few have actually followed the story from the source material. The 1973 British television movie tells its own tale, borrowing some characters and plot points from Mary Shelley’s novel, but adding their own spin on the old tale.
Victor Frankenstein (Leonard Whiting) has just finished his training as a doctor and is engaged to Elisabeth Fanshawe (Nicola Pagett) when his brother drowns in an accident. Still in mourning, the young Doctor begins to wonder if there is a way to bring life from death and returns to his medical school to study and experiment on this hypothesis. He meets Henry Clerval (David McCallum), an eccentric doctor who has the same goal and is far along in his experiments in bringing the dead back to life. The two become friends and just as the two are about to achieve their ultimate goal and test their theory on a body put together from the victims of a mining accident, tragedy strikes causing Victor to continue on without Clerval. The creature that emerges is not ugly or monstrous at all, but a beautiful man (Michael Sarrazin) who Victor attempts to educate and introduce into society, but he soon learns that the creature’s body is beginning to degrade, and the once beautiful man becomes more and more of a monster each day. As the story progresses Victor marries Elizabeth and Clerval’s old mentor, Doctor Polidori (James Mason) comes into the picture and blackmails Victor into creating another creature, this time a female whom they name Prima (Jane Seymour). Polidori has perfected the process so Prima’s body will not degrade and although Prima is beautiful on the outside, she is a monster on the inside. Polidori intends on using her to gain power and control over nations by manipulation of the ruling class. His nefarious plan is interrupted by Victor’s original creation, which sets up the final battle between Victor, Polidori and the Creature. Who will live and who will survive?
This unique version of the story is very interesting and paints Victor in a much more sympathetic light. Where he is driven and curious, but it is the other two doctors that push him, where Victor does nothing more than assisting with the experiments. With the first creature, it is Clerval who has created the process, which we later find out was stolen from Polidori, and Victor assists in building the apparatus to harness enough of the sun’s energy to bring a man to life. With Prima, Polidori is handicapped and really only needs Victor for his surgical skills. Specifically with Prima, Frankenstein works against his will, which gives the film a second adversary in Polidori, and making Victor a much more likeable character. He still feels the guilt and responsibility for all those who died at the hands of his creature, but also feels sympathy towards his creation. It is also interesting that the creature begins beautiful, and it is only over time that he becomes hideous, which goes against most other versions of the story, including the original novel.
The production value of this film was quite high with lavish settings and wonderful visuals. The cast is well chosen, and full of well-known actors, with Agnes Moorehead, Tom Baker and John Gielgud all making appearances in minor roles as well as the leads doing an excellent job in telling the story. The script was poetic and wonderfully written and the story flowed well with a good pace and rhythm. Overall, this is one of the best retellings of the classic story I have seen and is definitely worth a watch.
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