Portail d'information francophone sur l'acteur Benedict Cumberbatch

October 2012 : Frankenstein – “It’s alive” !

Version 1 (Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature)

I went to a cinema more than an hour from my place to see the film version of the theatre play "Frankenstein" with Mr. Cumberbatch as the Creature. First, I have to admit, I don't like Frankenstein. Well, I don't like the book. I think there are too many descriptions, and the constant snivelling of the doctor who tries to justify himself got on my nerves. I like the idea of the book, man against God, the scientific creation and its risks... And, I thought as a play, it could be interesting, more visual, and with talented actors... What can I say?

It was just perfect.

Danny Boyle and his writer, Nick Dear, wanted to adopt the point of view of the creature, and it’s a bloody good idea!
And seeing it more than reading it, it's really different...

So, now, the performance in itself.
Be careful, there are maybe spoilers in the following lines...
The "womb" from which the creature appears is a really good idea; the few minutes of fighting between the newborn and its new life are breathtaking. It seems like a real birth, difficult, or a fight for life, Mr. C's performance is amazing, from these first minutes until the end. The way he moves, the way the creature evolves from this mute wild thing which crawls on the floor to an educated, agile, intelligent human being capable of feelings, good and bad... Because, the interesting thing is that Frankenstein creates a human being. As the creature says, it was made for love, just waits to be loved and it receives only hate, so it becomes a hater, a liar, a murderer... like humans beings (don't scream, it's a general talk, but unlike the French philosopher J.J Rousseau, I don't believe in the myth of the good wild man...)
In the play, which isn't narrated by Frankenstein, or the creature (or the sailor from the book who just disappears; good idea! he's not needed in the plot!) we could see the reality of the character. The pride of Frankenstein who wants to be God (stronger than god) and works for his pride and own glory, not just for science!
And we could empathize with the creature, rejected, hated and so human - in a good way this time! - Because it just wants to be loved, he just wants to be warm, to have enough food, to not be alone and lonely.

Even after Elisabeth's murder (and rape... I wasn't happy with this addition, but I could understand it, and the self-hatred of the creature just after), you empathize with him, because Frankenstein was the sinner! He created life and abandoned it the second after! He just offered one lesson to his creation: rejection...
but I even have some pity for Frankenstein at the end (I think because of the play, and the acting of Jonny Lee Miller), neither he doesn't really know what love is, he is a cold scientific mind, he was in a way abandoned too in his dreams of greatness and could see the happiness was just, well, Elisabeth! he could have accomplished great things with his knowledge if he hadn't been that childish. And he could have accomplished great things with his creature.

All these reflexions come from the way they have organized and played the story.

As for the play itself

A lot of good actors, but, Mr. Cumberbatch is perfect. He has the best part! (I can't wait to see the other version... and want to see this one again!)

Jonny Lee Miller is great too as the doctor, but I feel his acting a little aggressive; again, I waited for the other version... His Frankenstein is really cold, but so interesting, less childish than in the novel.
The scenery is purely amazing! Not many things on stage, but the sky... such a good idea! and I love the simple stage set, which permits to concentrate on the acting, but which keeps the illusion (the house of Frankenstein's father, and the fisherman cottage for example)
I love the empty hole they use to symbolise the mountains where Victor and the Creature had their first meeting.

Frankenstein – version 2 (Jonny Lee Miller as the Creature)

We have lost something... The spell of the first time!
So, this note will be more about the 2 different performances of the actors than about the play itself.
It was still bliss! All the cast is amazing and I love the scenography (I love the sky! all these bulbs... such a inspired idea)

The switching of the parts is obvious from the first minute. Jonny Lee Miller has chosen to be a more childish monster. It's a kid who emerges from the womb. For Benedict Cumberbatch it is longer and more difficult, it is a fight with an abnormal life which appears. I much more prefer this first version as it sticks with my idea of the "creation" of the monster and how it prefigures what the life of the monster would be.

Then, I think the approach of Cumberbatch is stronger, because the monster is not a newborn, but a victim of an experiment, so his way of moving at the beginning (which remains to the end, but in a more discreet way), like AVC or accident victims is a very good choice.
In my opinion, a scene is important concerning this difference of approach; it's when Elisabeth and the creature sit on the bed. BC continues to move his hands and legs with a small shaking, but JLM has his hands still on his legs. I felt an evolution of the way of speaking of Cumberbatch's creature more important than Miller's.
I don't want to criticize Miller, because he's great. His creature is more childish at the beginning, and angrier after, and maybe if I had seen his version first I would be less critic. But, I prefer Benedict Cumberbatch's creature.
And, yes, I prefer his doctor, nearly for the same reason. Miller's doctor was really angry; Cumberbatch has moments of anger, but gentle moments too.

I really love the final scene of the second version, as BC is gentler than Miller.

Yes, it's really my point, not that the creature (or Victor) is not allowed to be angry. It has all the reasons in the world to be, but I prefer a more subtle approach.
I feel that BC's performance as the creature is exceptional.
For the fun, I have a bliss moment when Elisabeth says to Victor "People are dull", and Mr. Cumberbatch can't hold a smile (hidden very quickly).

Naomie Harris's face was on screen at the moment, but the short pause before the words, and the smile... I'm sure she did it on purpose; and it’s a brilliant example of how theatre people could be playful even with a camera around.
To conclude, I prefer the first version, but the second has the same quality. Brilliant actors, smart writing, amazing scenery. I think Nick Dear and Danny Boyle have really found the essence of the novel.