In the 1930s, British film-maker James Whale was one of the most successful directors in Hollywood, responsible for classics such as Frankenstein and The Invisible Man. Adapted from the novel by Christopher Brown, Bill Condon's film focuses not on these glory days, but picks up some years later, imagining the bitterly bored exile (a faultless Ian McKellen) living out his retirement with only his fearsomely Teutonic housekeeper (Lyn Redgrave) for company .
Until, that is, the elderly letch lures beefcake gardener Brendan Fraser in for a spot of modelling. Trading faded celebrity for affection, Whale begins to confide in the gardener about his secret working-class past, lost loves and horrific memories of the First World War.
Condon deploys the poetic imagery of the 1931 Frankenstein to explore Whale's struggle with his own identity. And Fraser's muscly gardener makes the perfect foil for McKellen's Whale, a man whose homosexuality makes him, in the eyes of the moral mob at least, a monster in a dapper suit. The growing relationship between them forms the heart of the film, but the creativity with which Condon directs his oblique biopic ensures sentiment is matched by style.
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