Kenneth Branagh Finally Free of 'Frankenstein'

Denver Rocky Mountain News, November 4 1994
by Bob Campbell

Still sporting Victor Frankenstein's fiery beard, Kenneth Branagh brought a dashing air of romantic exhaustion to the New York hotel suite where he was discussing his new screen version of Mary Shelley's novel.

''At a certain point I just wanted to deliver this movie and be done with it,'' he admitted. ''It's been in my system too long.''

The ordinarily robust actor-director was emerging from his two-year embrace with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the most faithful American feature version of Shelley's philosophical parable to date. The movie opens nationwide today. (See 6D for a review.)

Branagh has added plenty of bizarre spectacle to make up for the film's absence of traditional horror elements, but his movie comes closer to the book's bitter core than any previous attempt.

Branagh plays the overreaching Dr. Frankenstein. Robert De Niro is the creature whom he pieces together from graveyard remnants. As in Shelley's 1818 novel, this creature is a sentient, sensitive being who launches his murderous depradations only after he's abandoned by his creator and ostracized by humankind.

Maddened by despair, he implacably revenges himself on the father who fails to love him, killing everything that the father loves in his stead.

''I was playing Hamlet when the film was offered to me,'' Branagh said lightly, ''so the obsession with death was already there.''

Knowing only the previous movie versions, Branagh was amazed when he read the book by the 19-year-old Shelley.

''It had Shakespeare's scope,'' he said. ''Like a Greek tragedy, it concerned the attainment of wisdom through suffering. Yet essentially it was a domestic story about a dysfunctional family.''

Branagh's Frankenstein guiltily tries to detach himself from his creation and its deeds. The actor was attracted to the ''central moral debate - who's more evil? The man who murders the child, or the man who created the man who murders the child?''

His movie was produced by Francis Ford Coppola, who had previously filmed Bram Stoker's Dracula.

''Francis originally intended to direct it himself,'' Branagh said, ''but having spent two years on Dracula, he felt that he'd done his Gothic bit.''

Branagh says that he and De Niro worked well together, despite their very different performing traditions.

''We got on at a very simple level,'' said Branagh. ''We made each other laugh. He needs to feel trusted. Once he knew I trusted his instincts, he became very sympathetic.''

As actor and director, Branagh said, ''I don't set things. I vary from take to take. My actors know that I will always retake a shot if they're unhappy. I think that helps create an atmosphere of ease.''

Branagh is now a highly visible Hollywood figure. Rumors, which he shrugs off, have him lined up to play the younger Obi-Wan Kenobe in George Lucas' new Star Wars cycle.

What's next? Star Wars or Shakespeare? Frankenstein II or the London stage?

''I have no plans,'' Branagh said with a faded smile. ''I will just follow wherever my passionate Celtic heart takes me.''

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