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This British ITV-channel movie is probably too ambitious for its TV format. It generally fails to balance its divergent genres and affects, from broken-family narrative, to dangers of science parable, to corporate/government surveillance plot, to generic modern-day monster movie, and I don't much care for any of that, nor for the gimmicky camerawork involved to obscure the monster's face, the use of security-camera footage, or the oddly-red-letterboxed prolepsis introductory scene. The movie also tends to lose site of the story it's adapting, Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," in its updating of it and the gender change to its titular protagonist (as well as role changes for other characters). Perhaps, I've just seen too many Frankenstein films since reading the book, but I was somewhat intrigued merely by such novelty and the problems it poses to the adaptation.
The 18th Century setting, its being written in the early 19th Century and that Victor Frankenstein is a man are important to the novel's parthenogenic myth of creation without a mother. Especially given that Victor's experiment was inspired by alchemy, as opposed to the science springing from the Enlightenment, Shelley's story may also be read as a critique of misogynist notions of homunculi. Because it's an update and because its Frankenstein is a woman, this TV movie must throw out this central theme from the source it's adapting. This is where it's partially clever.
As far as updating the story, it's mostly uninteresting. An opening title card relates the movie's world, which appears to be suffering from a volcanic winter, to 1816, "The Year Without a Summer," in which Shelley conceived the story. This is an unnecessary connection, and it's ignored for most of the movie. Additionally, since science is no longer a solitary endeavor, this modern Frankenstein collaborates with a team of scientists with the usual hierarchies of academic, corporate and government funding. Even "I, Frankenstein" (2014) had a partial notion of that, though.
What's interesting here is the gender reversal--or rather, it's interesting how the filmmakers handled it. This Frankenstein is mostly called "Victoria," her last name only being partially revealed in a shot of a burnt copy of her paper for stem-cell transplant research. She has a son with Henry Clerval, Victor's friend from the book, and the son is named "William," the name of Victor's brother. Other characters take names from the novel, too, as well as from the Universal Frankenstein films, including scientists named "Ed Gore," as in Ygor, and a sinister female version of Dr. Pretorius. As in the book, William dies, but not from the monster this time. In a conflict of interest so big it blows a plot hole through the movie, Victoria is creating organs via stem cells, and her son is dying from organ malfunctions. She injects her son's DNA into the created organs, so that they'll be a match.
Shelley's novel is an almost mother-less world, but this movie turns this around by making its protagonist the personification of motherhood, both naturally, via William, and, later, by scientific mishap. At first, however, when William dies, Victoria decides to terminate the science project--even though she already knows "it's alive" (which, of course, is quoted in this movie). In effect, she requests an abortion of the life she's created. The metaphor is heightened by the womb-like tank where the creature grows. It's a similar conception to that in Kenneth Branagh's 1994 "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." Whereas Branagh's Victor acted out the creation scene with a fervor akin to masturbation and was, then, repulsed by what he created, Victoria looks upon the growth in the womb with almost motherly affection, but she injects the DNA into the tank with the scientific precision of artificial insemination.
Although William's death changes this, and Victoria requests an abortion of her creature, the authorities force the "pregnancy," along with the requisite assistance from a bolt of lightning, to term. As with the Universal series, the monster is a childlike figure, and this movie further references the Boris Karloff versions with a scene where the monster meets a little girl, with the bolts and flat-top helmet they place on him and by the windmill turbine that's struck by lightning. Initially, Victoria reacts to the monster, like Victor did, with disgust, but eventually her motherly instincts return, as she defends the creature's life. Henry also plays a part in the movie's gender reversal from the book, including Victoria's claim that he'd abandoned William in the past. Overall, this isn't too bad of a Frankenstein for managing to alter a story that's been rather patriarchal, whether as a critique of it or not, from novel and through most other movie adaptations, to this matriarchal creation.
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