Victor Frankenstein (12A)
10:22 04 December 2015
In her 1818 novel Frankenstein, Mary Shelley paints a vivid portrait of a wretched monster, whose “unearthly ugliness rendered it almost too horrible for human eyes”.
Scottish director Paul McGuigan’s clunky reworking of the Gothic masterpiece, which recounts man’s ill-fated meddling with Mother Nature from the perspective of Frankenstein’s assistant Igor, is a similarly lifeless and unappealing mess.
The disfigured, snivelling servant doesn’t feature in Shelley’s haunting text but was popularised by Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s.
As played here by Daniel Radcliffe, Igor is a kind-hearted circus clown, who pledges his loyalty to Dr Frankenstein in return for liberation from a life of bullying and brutality.
He isn’t a hunchback at all, but a victim of a nasty bulging abscess beside the 10th vertebrae, which is drained of puss in stomach-churning close-up as a centrepiece of the film’s pedestrian first half.
The fraternal bond between scientific master and much-abused whelp is one of the more interesting aspects of Max Landis’ misguided and misfiring script.
Alas, it’s not sufficiently developed ahead of a cacophonous second act replete with flashes of lighting and the birth of a homunculus, patched together from stolen organs and body parts.
Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) is a student at the Royal College Of Medicine with lodgings in the West End.
During a visit to a circus run by sadistic ringmaster Barnaby (Daniel Mays), Victor encounters a lowly clown (Radcliffe) with a burning passion for anatomy.
A bond is forged and Victor rescues the clown from his cage and asks the performer to become his assistant under the guise of his morphine-addicted flatmate, Igor Straussman.
Together, they blaze a trail in medical science by harnessing the power of electricity to reanimate dead flesh.
“I am of the strong belief that death can be made a temporary condition,” gushes Victor.
Success emboldens Frankenstein and the student dares to create a fully formed being with support from a wealthy patron called Finnegan (Freddie Fox).
Meanwhile, Igor fans the flames of a fledgling romance with a circus acrobat Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay) and God-fearing Inspector Roderick Turpin (Andrew Scott) vows to bring down Victor for mocking his religion.
“You toy with wrathful forces and there’s no mercy in nature,” growls the police officer.
Victor Frankenstein lumbers and lurches rather like the monstrosity that the title character jolts to life with a bolt of from the heavens.
Radcliffe and McAvoy are an awkward double-act: the former stilted and earnest, the latter wide-eyed and manic.
Scott verges on unintentional hilarity as a man of faith, undone by the grief of losing his wife.
“Something reeks here - reeks of an evil, sinful mischief!” he cackles as the police investigation gathers pace.
Lamentably, he’s right: Victor Frankenstein stinks.
** (2 stars)