There's a certain amount of déjà vu about this movie as it covers some of the same ground as `Love and Death on Long Island', with John Hurt and Jason Priestley. Here we have Sir Ian McKellen as aging queer and Brendan Fraser as young male bimbo, but physical sexuality is hardly a possibility since the old boy is too infirm. Still, that doesn't stop him thinking about it, and of course there are all those old memories crowding in, helped by his recent stroke.
The old fruit is someone quite famous in the history of film. He is James Whale, an English recruit to Hollywood in the 30s who directed at least one seminal masterpiece, `Frankenstein' and its sequel `Bride of Frankenstein' and several other memorable films including `Showboat' and `The Invisible Man'. Unusually, Whale was a production designer before turning to direction and his visual sensibility contributed greatly to the quality of his films. His directorial career in decline, he turned to painting in the 1940s. We see him in the last year of his life, 1957, when a ficticious Clay Boone (Fraser), working as a gardener, happens upon Whale, who is afflicted by ill-health but living in comfortable retirement in Beverley Hills and being looked after by his severe but caring Hungarian housekeeper (beautifully played by Lyn Redgrave).
Old James invites Clay in to see his etchings, or rather to be sketched. Brendan, though ignorant of Whale's movies, somehow finds Whale fascinating and even develops some affection for the talkative old man. His own life is emotionally poverty-stricken and Whale seems to like him for more than just his body (which Clay as a confirmed heterosexual is not about to rent out). But for Whale it's really all too late Death is close by. Their friendship flowers briefly and then suddenly it's all over.
James, a product of the English working class who became an officer, is dogged by horrific memories of the trenches of World War 1 the horror of his movies is positively pastoral by comparison. The flashbacks to Whale's film-making days of glory are interesting but serve to remind us that his time is well and truly past in the 20 years since he retired film-making has made huge strides and `Frankenstein' by 1957 is a museum piece.
McKellen, a very great actor in the classic English tradition and himself gay, has little trouble playing Whale, but the real surprise is Brendan Fraser as Clay a quiet and well-judged performance. It's a low key movie perhaps mainly of interest to film buffs but it also addresses the issue of communication between the young and the old. Clay is enriched by his encounter with Whale, and Whale, for a brief time, is consoled.
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