There’s a distinctive, palpable sense of adventure to Paul McGuigan’s resourceful reimagining of Mary Shelley’s legendary novel Frankenstein. That much is evident from the chase sequence which takes place in the circus in the opening stages, setting the tone for what is to come. Except regrettably, that doesn’t quite prove to be the case, as this tonally inconsistent picture loses its way somewhat, becoming increasingly darker as we progress, but never able to find a compatible balance between the frivolity and the barbarity.
Our time spent in the circus is rather brief, as Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), the tormented hunchbacked entertainer is spotted by the radical doctor Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) after performing emergency surgery to save the life of his colleague Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay). Determined to reinvent himself, Igor becomes a trusty assistant, becoming perilously embroiled in the doctor’s latest, groundbreaking project – to bring people back from the dead. But this questionably unethical, and distinctly unconventional endeavour soon garners the attentions of the uncompromising detective, Roderick Turpin (Andrew Scott), who lingers tirelessly on their tail.
Victor Frankenstein works better when overstated, revelling in the pantomime-esque elements, than it does in the latter stages when we broach the subject of humanity, and the religion versus science debate that ensues. Though there is always a place for such a theme when dealing with this story, in this case it’s where McGuigan struggles. Needless to say McAvoy shines in the titular role, adding nuance and depth to a character you fear didn’t have an awful amount of either on the page. His obsessive nature makes him comparable to McAvoy’s turn in Filth, except that was the perfect example in balancing savagery with entertainment. Scott also impresses (as always), though Radcliffe does struggle in parts, thankfully gifted the role of the cipher, so not damaging the project too significantly.
On a more positive note, there’s an intriguing blurring of the line between heroes and villains which enriches this narrative, albeit one that is all too familiar. Initially the notion of coming at this tale from a unique perspective – that of Igor’s – was enticing, but we lose any such innovation rather swiftly, as this picture eventually just becomes the tale we already know so well.