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Tuesday, March 16, 1999 Published at 17:47 GMT

Film Review: Gods and Monsters

Gods and Monsters is nominated for three Academy Awards

Gods and Monsters won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay in last Sunday's Oscars. The film's stars Sir Ian McKellen and Lynn Redgrave were also nominated but lost out to others.

The film received its all-star UK premiere in London on Thursday night. The BBC's Lawrence White got a sneak preview of the film first.

Oscars '99
Director Bill Condon takes a walk through Hollywood history in this sophisticated improvisation on the themes of Frankenstein.

We're in the 1950s, and Sir Ian McKellen's James Whale - real-life director of classic thirties horror movies Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein - hasn't made a film for years.

In fact, he has been out from the studio system for reasons that may or may not relate to his homosexuality, and is now enduring a sexually tormented dotage in his isolated mansion.

[ image: The real James Whale, film director]
The real James Whale, film director
Then, all of a sudden, life takes a turn for the better in the form of George of the Jungle star Brendan Fraser, as his new gardener, Clayton Boone.

Before long, Whale is staring out of the window in a homoerotic take on a certain diet drink break and contriving ways for the two mens' paths to cross.

Boone, an army vet adrift in life, is impressed by the film director and glad to have met someone other than his roadhouse drinking buddies and on-off barmaid girlfriend Betty (Lolita Davidovich).

So when the old man asks to paint his portrait, he's flattered. But of course, he doesn't know what he's getting into.

[ image: James Whale and gardener Clayton Boone]
James Whale and gardener Clayton Boone
The relationship cleverly reworks the doctor-monster pairing of the original story to comment on fathers and sons, masters and servants and the mind and the body.

You never know quite where things are headed as the tables constantly turn between McKellen - the decadent old European, and Fraser's lost young American.

This film is no straightforward remake, so don't hold your breath waiting for the sky to fill with lightning or McKellen to cry: "I have created a monster!"

[ image: Lynn Regrave plays Whale's live-in housekeeper]
Lynn Regrave plays Whale's live-in housekeeper
The whole thing is illuminated by superb performances and direction; McKellen and Condon were both nominated for Academy awards, as was Lynn Regrave, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.

Redgrave nearly steals the film as Whale's crabby, central European housekeeper Hanna - whose function as comic relief and superficial resemblances to Igor, the good doctor's sidekick in Mel Brooks' film Young Frankenstein may be more than coincidental.

This genuinely adult, touching picture, deserved more recognition at the Academy Awards than it received.

Gods and Monsters is released in UK cinemas on 26 March.

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