›› Gods and Monsters ‹‹

a film by Bill Condon.

1998 | 105 mins | US.

a fictionalized homage to the last days of director James Whale.

Dave says:

Directed and adapted in Academy® Award winning style by Bill Condon from the novel Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram, this exquisite film pays a fictionalized homage to the last days of director James Whale. In doing so, Condon paints an achingly realistic picture of a man who in an era in which 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, Whale 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. And it's this period that this work details, as we find Whale (Ian McKellen on outstanding form, as ever) incapacitated by a stroke, being tended to by his dour and overly fussy housekeeper Hanna (Lynn Redgrave), as the former Hollywood golden boy of The Bride of Frankenstein fame is only too aware that his career and days of sexual excesses are behind him. Yet into his world enters one Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser); 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 nonetheless come to form a close bond. Only is friendship all that is on his mind, or has Whale an entirely different agenda?

For that is the theme that the narrative plays with, given at the time of Whale's suicide the exact circumstances surrounding his death remained somewhat unclear, by way of his "I must have peace and this is the only way" suicide note being originally withheld. It's a grey area that and in spite of the solid work from Fraser as Frankenstein-like Boone and Redgrave's (Best Supporting Actress) compelling portrayal of Hanna; a deeply religious woman who dotes on Whale like a surrogate wife, only to be repulsed by his homosexual openness, by no surprise finds McKellen the star of the show, here vividly capturing 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.

Backed by the work of a wondrous cast of supporting players, this character-driven piece is but a perfect example of what professional acting, fine direction and dedicated film-making is all about. The result is a feature that's 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.

Postscript: McKellen naturally went onto star in many an award-winning production, including the noted The Lord of the Rings, X-Men and The Da Vinci Code blockbusters, together with having continued his working relationship with director Bill Condon in the 2015 film Mr. Holmes and more recently in the 2019 dramatic thriller The Good Liar that saw him working alongside and for the first time on screen, Helen Mirren and gay favourite Russell Tovey. Fraser on the other hand and after a series of major box office hits of the like of The Mummy fame, would experience the "only as good as your last picture" career roller coaster of Hollywood, having however returned to Oscar winning form of late in the emotional feature The Whale / 2022. Lynn Redgrave sadly and following an exemplary career on stage and screen, would take her final bow on the 2nd May, 2010 aged only 67 and whom Michael Winner, amongst many others, would pay tribute to, adding that: "she was a phenomenal actress; she could do comedy, tragedy, anything really - with absolute ease."

›› available as part of the LIONS GATE ENTERTAINMENT catalogue: 17th June, 2003 / UK.
›› revised: Tuesday, 14th March, 2023.

Gay Visibility - overt | Nudity - the brief monty | Overall - file under ... 4 stars

›› copyright © 2023 David Hall - www.gaycelluloid.com ‹‹
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