It's Alive! Danny Boyle's Frankenstein Comes to U.S. Cinemas

Benedict Cumberbatch in ‘Frankenstein’/Photo © Catherine Ashmore/National Theatre
Benedict Cumberbatch in ‘Frankenstein’/Photo © Catherine Ashmore/National Theatre

The film of Danny Boyle’s theatrical staging of Frankenstein is in two hundred U.S. theaters June 6-7, after a limited but successful screen outing in March 2011. Adapted by Nick Dear (“Persuasion”) from Mary Shelley’s classic novel, the play starred Jonny Lee Miller (“Trainspotting”) and Benedict Cumberbatch (“Sherlock”), who alternated the lead roles of the doctor and the creature every night. The acclaimed ten-week run at London’s National Theatre sold out, as did the screenings beamed to cinemas by the National Theatre Live program, an initiative to film live performances and broadcast them via satellite worldwide.

Though better known now for his wide-ranging and stylish filmography (“28 Days Later,” “Slumdog Millionaire”), Boyle began his directing career in theater before branching out to television and, eventually, cinema. But Frankenstein remained a dream project and, in the early nineties, he drafted a stage version with Dear, but shelved it after Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 movie. Approached by the National’s artistic director Sir Nicholas Hytner in 2002, Boyle suggested a production, but did not begin working on it until after 2010’s “127 Hours.”

In this month’s British Vogue, Boyle cites Frankenstein as an influence on his direction of the opening ceremony of the  forthcoming 2012 Summer Olympics in London — an intriguing proposition. (Though, disappointingly, he explains that, in the ceremony, “We don’t reanimate dead creatures.” Which would be a very Danny Boyle touch.) Large-scale and visually complex (the gorgeous lighting design is a show in itself), his Frankenstein draws upon the Gothic and the Romantic elements of Shelley’s work, from its startling opening sequence of the creature’s “birth” to its wondrous celebration of nature to its move into darkly atmospheric horror. Accompanying this is an original score by British electronic duo Underworld, who contributed a song to Boyle’s “Trainspotting” and will also collaborate with him on the Olympic opening ceremony.

Visual and aural splendor notwithstanding, the reason to see the play is its central pair. Boyle always intended to have two actors share the roles and Dear’s dramatization accords equal time to Victor Frankenstein and his creation, who gets less attention in the novel. In lesser hands, it could have come off as gimmicky, but the complementary Miller and Cumberbatch are electric in their alternating roles. (That said, if you can only catch one version, see Cumberbatch as the doctor — clearly rooted in his Sherlock Holmes — and Miller as the questing, humanized creature.) The knowledge of their dual performances gives the play’s focus on creator and created — the other storylines feel incidental by comparison — greater darkness in their parallel narratives, twinned characters reduced by tragedy until they are left only with each other in a bleak symbiosis of choice and consequence.

Watch the trailer for the play:

  • guest

    I disagree completely. If you can only see one version see Cumberbatch as the Creature. If you head to tumblr you'll see virtually everyone says see Cumberbatch as the creature and having seen both versions twice I;d concur.

  • Amy

    The worst reason for seeing the play is holding the illusion that Cumberbatch is like Sherlock in the play, because his Victor Frankenstein is not Sherlock, and with all due respect to Miller, Cumberbatch's Creature both in terms of physical and emotional express is more well-rounded and authentic than Miller's Creature. It's a play from the Creature's point of view, definitely recommend Cumberbatch as the Creature version if people can only see one version.

  • Allison

    I saw Cumberbatch as the Creature last night, and while I have not seen Miller as the Creature (and therefore can't make the best decision), I will comment to say that Cumberbatch's creature is absolutely magnificent. He holds the childlike innocence and yet absolute desolation one would expect the Creature to hold, and he uses his body, not just his words, to expertly tell the story.
    Either way, if you get the chance to see the play, you should go. It's not just the acting that's masterful, but it's also the gorgeous and still minimalistic stage and set, plus the haunting music and the brilliantly written adapted story.

  • Vicki l

    I just saw the three nights ago. I thought miller was great as the Dr. Cumberbatch was astounding as the Creature!! I would disagree with the reviewe. Loved it catch it if you can.