Who doesn’t love a theatrical drama filled with contemplation? Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a spectacular adaption of the renowned 1817 gothic novel, Frankenstein, and is a movie lover's dream, touching the thoughts of viewers since its release in 1994. Today, Branagh has sat down with me to discuss how he has used gothic elements, such as women, to appeal to the modern audience to depict the infamous tale so the modern audience can still enjoy this classic.
Hi Kenneth, thank you so much for joining me today! Your legendary film, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, was a success upon its release in 1994. How did you have such success in keeping the attraction and appeal of a 19th gothic tale for modern audiences?
Thank you for having me, it is such a pleasure to be talking with you! I remember when I was coming up with ideas for the film, it became extremely important to modernize the film. These days, a classic story must be modernized in order to keep the audience intrigued and keep wanting more. It was an idea of mine to change parts of the novel to make the film more interesting in order to attract a large base of movie enthusiasts. A difference in the film was the decision to change the representation of women. I decided to change this to reinvent the film so that it could stand on its own against the modernization of society. Society and its values have changed since the 19th century and the novel was lacking a lot of what our society values today. It became a decision that I stick by to this very day. The character of Elizabeth was changed so that the audience could understand her values. I decided to change her personality and make her a strong independent woman. I felt that the audience would connect with the film better if I made Elizabeth an empowering woman.
I added this scene where Elizabeth decides to leave Victor after the way that he has treated her. I used a long-range shot with blurry imagery to utilize the gothic element of emptiness in their relationship to capture modern society’s attention. You can clearly see that Elizabeth covering her wedding dress shows that Elizabeth is taking back control of her life after the lack of clarity that Victor had given her hence the poor images.
As you know, in modern society women are far more independent and bolder than in the 19th century. Changing their personality of Elizabeth was a necessary step in the right direction. All women deserved to be properly represented which I felt that unfortunately, the novel did not do justice for.
It was my idea to create something fresh and inspired, resulting in audiences having something they had never seen before, and I just fell in love with this new take on the story.
I also think the younger generation is very much attracted to stories with empowering supporting women such as Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series.
The elements in this film were amazing! It looks like you went into great detail with them. The story of Frankenstein is one that is quite gothic and dark, how did you manage to enhance these gothic themes?
They certainly were! I believed the settings and soundtrack were the keys to this film. When looking for locations for the film I tried to source out the best of the best as I believed that exaggerated settings are important when making a gothic film. It’s a technique of gothic movies that symbolizes important information.
Locations managers, Paul Shersby and Stefan Zürcher were sensational in finding and organizing locations that the three of us deemed fit for the film. I was extraordinarily lucky to have them as a part of my team as we were on the same page when it came down to the final decision. They both believed that the locations were the most important part of the film as they tell the whole story. A setting can determine the mood for a particular scene like when Elizabeth dies, the violent storm outside was there to represent the lack of control that she had in preventing her death.
As for the soundtrack, the music supervisor, Maggie Rodford, was an important part of our film as setting and sound are equally important in creating a gothic masterpiece. The soundtrack in Elizabeth’s rebirth scene was important to represent the horror of the audience once they realized what Victor had done. The carousel music playing as they are dancing is to …
Through the soundtrack, we were able to emotionally connect the audience to the film which is an important part of gothic films as the audience’s emotions change due to the sounds that they here. By using these artistic and technical merits, I feel they are impressive to viewers and give the story the grace that it deserves!
With your representation of female characters, you managed to show two types of women in this film. Why did you choose to characterize Elizabeth differently from the original gothic woman but not do the same for Justine?
My main focus was to create a more modernized storyline which can be rather hard to do. However, I refused to allow my modernization of the film to change the entire structure of the novel. While I changed Elizabeth into a strong woman, I could not do anything with Justine due to the way Mary Shelley designed her. Justine is portrayed as a weak woman that is always trapped with no way out. If I tried to change her, the storyline would have been disrupted. In the novel, Justine is famed for the murder of Victor’s younger brother because she was found asleep with the engagement necklace that the little brother last had. This all comes down to Justine being portrayed as a weak female as she was led to that situation by being sick. If I made Justine to be a strong independent female character, Justine would never have let herself fall asleep in the cabin or let herself be framed for the younger brothers’ murder. I also chose to modernize Elizabeth's character because I wanted her and Elizabeth to be equal in their relationship. In the novel, there is no equality in their relationship, and I felt that as the director, I was required to change this. The only way through was to change Elizabeth’s personality so that the equality in the relationship was not out of place and awkward in the final product.
Thank you so much for your time today, it has been wonderful getting your in-depth view on the motivations behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and now you can see the feministic approach in the film made it such a huge success. It was great to hear how your use of gothic elements in the 19th century, has actually attracted the modern audiences of today.