Frankenstein director James Whale has long been ready for the biopic treatment. He grew up in a Midlands slum, was openly gay and responsible for creating one of cinema's most enduring images: that of the flat-headed, bolt-necked Monster portrayed by Boris Karloff. But, instead of taking a straightforward Ed Wood-type approach to his subject, helmer Bill Condon (Candyman: Farewell To The Flesh) has chosen to adapt a fictional account of the last months of Whale's life based on the novel Father Of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram.
The plot hangs on the relationship between a dying Whale (merely weeks away from his mysteriously infamous swimming-pool death) and Boone, a sensitive lunkhead who takes a shine to this strange old queen. Whale's past is alluded to through glimpsed flashbacks, dream sequences and hallucinations, but Gods And Monsters keeps its focus firmly on his and Boone's conversations and conflicts. The casting doesn't seem that adventurous: an ageing, gay, British thesp playing an ageing, gay, British director; and an actor most famous for playing dim beefcakes (George Of The Jungle, California Man) playing - - you guessed it - - a dim beefcake. But both are extremely complicated, and McKellen and Fraser excel in their roles.
Boone is obviously as straight as a post, begging the question: why does he continue posing with his shirt off for Whale, even after he realises the guy's a ""fruit""? Whale, meanwhile, is a highly intelligent, creative person, aware that his brain is set to expire before the rest of his organs. He oscillates between lucidity and confusion, rage and calm, jocularity and despair, and McKellen captures every last twinge of emotion. Lynn Redgrave (who won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress) provides comic relief as Whale's dour, sniffily German maid.
After watching The Bride Of Frankenstein with her employer she declares: ""Your moofie iss not my teacup"". There're a lot of laughs to be drawn from Gods And Monsters, despite the prevailing gloom, and here lies the key to its success. It may be horrific at times, but it will make you chuckle. Rather like Whale's own movies.