Gods and Monsters (1998)
“I've spent much of my life outrunning the past, and now it floods all over me.” James Whale directed over 20 films in ten years, four of which are recognised as classics of the horror genre. Now, after 15 years in retirement and a couple of strokes, Whale’s imagined horrors become intermingled with the very real horrors he experienced prior to taking up filmmaking. Through an ingenious use of hallucinations, recollections and dreams, writer-director Bill Condon reveals Whale’s life story while simultaneously portraying the character of the man. The result instantly became a classic of the biopic genre.
In an Oscar-nominated performance (the first for an openly gay man portraying an openly gay character), Ian McKellen brings his entire acting prowess to the role of James Whale. He is particularly affecting when recalling, almost as a monologue, his experiences during World War One. He is ably supported by Brendan Fraser in a straight role and Lynn Redgrave in a comic turn as Whale’s housekeeper. Adding to the film’s enjoyment is a collection of actors who bear a remarkable resemblance to their iconic counterparts.
Like his classic Bride of Frankenstein (1935), from which this biopic derives its title, Gods and Monsters is both haunting and whimsical at times. Yet all of its disparate elements come together for a richly satisfying whole. Even the film’s coda, which at first seems perfunctory, has a final message from Whale and a tribute from Boone that reveals the lasting (fictional) bond between the two men.
as James Whale
as Boris Karloff
as Elsa Lanchester
as Colin Clive
Clayton Boone is a fictional character.
Hanna is a composite character based on two housekeepers Whale had, named Hannah and Johanna.
Apart from some dream sequences inspired by Whale's films, the only scene recreation in this biopic is from Bride of Frankenstein, which includes a spot-on portrayal of Ernest Thesiger by Australian actor Arthur Dignam.