Before Ian McKellen was Magneto and Gandalf and before Brendan Fraser was fighting mummies, they along with Lynn Redgrave, starred in a film about the end of the life of renowned director James Whale who had made many films but was most known for the Karloff Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. The project was based on the book Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram. The book was also adapted into a play at one point and it’s easy to see why, it’s a wonder story, not historically accurate or even really a biopic by any means, but a character study of Whale. Fraser play Whales gardener who befriends him, despite Whale’s homosexuality which wasn’t exactly considered a positive character trait at the time. Redgrave shines as the housekeeper and bears a strong resemblance to Igor in the Frankenstein films, not just by her devotion to the aging director but in some physical traits as well.
I don’t think anyone would be surprised at how good McKellen and Redgrave are in their roles but Brendon Fraser is really excellent in his part. He looks it, handsome and sexy but not out of place for the epoch in which the film takes place. It’s a shame artistically he didn’t pursue more challenging and interesting parts as time went on. Monetarily it’s pretty obvious he made the right choices but he shows real signs of being able to grow into a great actor in this movie.
All in all, the story of a gay, almost forgotten filmmaker/artist who is all too aware that his faculties are leaving him and haunted by his fragmented memories not just of his career and youth but of the horrors of World World 1 which he experienced first hand is compelling and touching. While fictitious, the character of the gardener works well as the person who in effect takes us through this story and Fraser does it with charm and real emotion.
The film still evokes an emotional response and if you can find it, read the book as well. The book and film are not completely different, but different enough for one to enhance the appreciation of the other.