Frankenstein is one of the most famous and influential novels of all time, and this year marks the 200thanniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which she wrote in 1818 when she was 20. At the time Shelley had to publish her novel anonymously, which was not uncommon for female authors at this time as they were not as accepted by the public.
Shelley’s inspiration for this legendary novel was very close to home, her husband’s fascination with galvanism, a method of creating electricity using chemicals, was what ignited her imagination for this story. Mary Shelley was married to Percy Bysshe Shelley, known to be one of the most well-known romantic poets as well as being regarded as one of the most influential lyric poets. Percy wrote a preface on Mary’s novel when first released, as she published it anonymously. Due to this preface in the novel, many thought Percy had written it himself, apart from those who suspected that it was in fact written by a ‘newbie’ of the writer world.
When Mary Shelley unleashed Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus upon the world in 1818, she couldn’t have realised the impact this novel would have at shaping the modern-day film and theatre scene.
I could just list to you films that are influenced by this novel, but that would be more of a novel in itself, so instead I will just share with you those that I feel are most significant or insignificant in some cases. Frankenstein has been a staple of cinema since the early days of silent movies. The first direct screen adaptation of Frankenstein was made in 1910 in the USA and since then there have been to many more, an honourable mention being The Bride of Frankenstein made by Universal in 1935, which is a film all if not most people have at least heard of. Unlike other adaptations like Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster, which got shocking reviews being called ‘one of the worst sci-fi movies ever made’ by TV Guide with a 3.4/10-star rating from Imdb, it’s possible Shelley’s turning in her grave at the thought of her beloved novel being used for this.
The Frankenstein story has been the basis for countless other films and elements of this legendary novel are scattered across today’s film landscape, a few of these being Ex-Machina, The Addams Family and Avengers. Films like these are known as twin films – they cover the same theme or plot but Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has allowed these films to expand from this. Each of them has been able to create their own spin on this classic, whether it be sci-fi, action, comedies and there are even more adaptations out there.
One of the latest releases based on this novel was Victor Frankenstein, directed by Paul McGuigan in 2015, starring Daniel Radcliffe. Although the title gives the impression that this film will follow the plot of the novel, it does not. According to Collider, the movie’s plot, when first announced by 20th Century Fox back in 2014 said: “James McAvoy is Victor Von Frankenstein and Daniel Radcliffe stars as Igor in a unique, never-before-seen twist on Mary Shelley’s classic 19th-century novel. Told from Igor’s perspective, we see the troubled young assistant’s dark origins, his redemptive friendship with the young medical student Victor Von Frankenstein and become eyewitnesses to the emergence of how Frankenstein became the man—and the legend—we know today.”
Shelley’s themes are also featured in the franchise of Marvel’s ‘The Avengers’ in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Tony Stark and Bruce Banner create Ultron, a robot, in an attempt to keep the peace in the world, however, like the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this backfired and the man-made creation set out on a destructive quest to end humanity. Once they decide to build this machine, Tony Stark is consumed with an intense passion, paralleling Victor Frankenstein’s portrayal seen in the majority of the depictions seen on our screens. Also, in this film, much like Frankenstein’s monster, Ultron begins to question and interpret its own purpose.
Although it is clear that Avengers: Age of Ultron was influenced by Shelley’s piece, Ex-Machina offers a more traditional reflection of the novel. This film is like an updated futuristic interpretation of Frankenstein replacing the creature, a reanimated human, for an artificial intelligence in the form of a robot. Although the film is presented as more of a sci-fi thriller, it covers some key topics that not many films are brave enough to reflect. They compare Shelley’s pursuit of knowledge to the extent of pushing the boundaries just too far.
Nick Groom, of Exeter University, sometimes referred to as the “Prof of Goth” said: “[Shelley’s] reputation has been overtaken by the films, which have oversimplified these questions in ways that don’t really reflect the sophistication of her novel”. This could be argued with cases such as I, Frankenstein, which received a lot of bad reviews from film critics, being called “I-Not-Good” by The Guardian.
While many variations of the Frankenstein film do stray away from the original, some do try to follow the plot faithfully. Kenneth Branagh did this with his 1994 film Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. However, this film did change the ending bringing the creatures’ bride to life and also giving her Elizabeth’s head and memories, a choice that made the film like marmite to its viewers – you either love it or hate it.
The first stage adaptations in 1823 were what introduced the ‘sidekick’ character of Fritz, who is known more commonly known as Igor. I would say that the stage version, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller in 2011 at the National Theatre, is one of the truest representations of Frankenstein. Both actors won the Olivier Award and the London Evening Standard Award for Best Actor for their respective performances. Although all these adaptations differ in setting and sometimes even plot, they all reflect the key messages from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Is it possible to create a human-like creature with appearance and personality successfully or will chaos always follow? It is clear that although published 200 years ago Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a timeless classic with limitless possibilities.
Top 5 Frankenstein films
- Frankenstein 1931
This version of Frankenstein is the best according to most reviews, which is clearly seen as it is still highly respected by the film industry even though it is one of the oldest out of the bunch.
- Bride of Frankenstein 1935
This film is a sequel to the 1931 release of Frankenstein and, although clearly different with the introduction of a new character the Bride of Frankenstein, it still holds up the storyline prior to her creation, which satisfied audiences and critics still consider it to be a masterpiece in the film even now.
- Young Frankenstein 1974
Although this film is a mockery of what other Frankenstein films have been, in some sense it is a tribute to how much this story is known worldwide, receiving great reviews from critics with 93% on rotten tomatoes.
- Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein 1994
This is said to be one of the most accurate films out of the bunch, which could actually be the case with Robert De Niro’s portrayal of the monster is more human-like than most other versions, which is definitely more accurate to Shelley’s vision than the total monsters associated with Frankenstein in most films today.
- The Curse of Frankenstein 1957
The well-known industry of Hammer Films created this version. Sir Christopher Lee’s performance in this legendary film was what most critics say made it so memorable. He created a more menacing and terrifying character than had been seen previously with the versions made in the 30s.