Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

`Trust in Script' Steers Branagh to True `Frankenstein'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

`Trust in Script' Steers Branagh to True `Frankenstein'

Article excerpt

STILL SPORTING Victor Frankenstein's fiery beard, Kenneth Branagh brought a dashing air of romantic exhaustion to the hotel suite where he was discussing his new screen version of Mary Shelley's novel.

"At a certain point I just wanted to deliver this movie and be done with it," he admitted. "It's been in my system too long."

The ordinarily robust actor-director was emerging from his two-year embrace with "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," the most faithful American feature version of Shelley's philosophical parable to date.

Branagh has added plenty of bizarre spectacle to make up for the film's absence of traditional horror elements, but his movie comes closer to the book's bitter core than any previous attempt.

Branagh plays the overreaching Dr. Frankenstein. Robert DeNiro is the creature whom he pieces together from graveyard remnants. As in Shelley's 1818 novel, this creature is a sentient, sensitive being who launches his murderous depradations only after he's abandoned by his creator and ostracized by humankind. Maddened by despair, the creature implacably avenges himself on the father who fails to love him, killing everything that the father loves in his stead.

"I was playing Hamlet when the film was offered to me," Branagh said lightly, "so the obsession with death was already there."

Knowing only the previous movie versions, Branagh was amazed when he read the book by the 19-year-old Shelley.

"It had Shakespeare's scope," he said. "Like a Greek tragedy, it concerned the attainment of wisdom through suffering. Yet essentially it was a domestic story about a dysfunctional family."

Given its prophetic view of organ transplants and biological engineering, added Branagh, "All the things that have been claimed for it are true. It speaks quite clearly to our age."

Branagh's Frankenstein guiltily tries to detach himself from his creation and its deeds. The actor was attracted to the "central moral debate - who's more evil? The man who murders the child, or the man who created the man who murders the child?"

His movie was produced by Francis Ford Coppola, who had previously filmed "Bram Stoker's Dracula."

"Francis originally intended to direct it himself," Branagh said, "but having spent two years on `Dracula' he felt that he'd done his Gothic bit."

At first, Branagh was respectfully wary of Coppola's, and Hollywood's, motives.

"I thought they just wanted to cash in on `Dracula,' " he said.

And Hollywood was respectfully wary of Branagh. Though he'd directed one moderately successful American film ("Dead Again"), he was best known for his classy productions of Shakespeare's "Henry V" and "Much Ado About Nothing." Coppola helped Branagh persuade Tri-Star Pictures that he could handle this huge, costly enterprise.

"I had to convince them that it wasn't going to be a long, boring art project," Branagh said affably. …

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