Humans Are the Monsters: Frankenstein - Jonny Lee Miller as Creature

The laboratory table, Frankenstein Museum.
The laboratory table, Frankenstein Museum. | Source

Meeting with cruelty wherever he goes, the friendless Creature, increasingly desperate and vengeful, determines to track down his creator and strike a terrifying deal.

Sherlock Holmes in Frankenstein

National Theatre Live released films of two 21st century Sherlock Holmes actors each portraying Dr. Frankenstein and/or The Creature.They will never be released on DVD, so catch these in a theater when you can.

Halloween week has been a splendid time to view them. Both versions of the play outscore the Halloween horrors of Filmland in recent years. I think my mouth was agape the entire two hours of the show.

For those who enjoy both Elementary (CBS) and Sherlock (BBC), the NTL Frankenstein productions are an unusual treat, much like watching Steve Martin and Robin Williams in Waiting for Godot - or imagining both Sherlocks portraying Williams's madman of The Fisher King in his own way. All these actors are astonishing.

...the major thing that makes him Sherlock is his relationship with Watson - their friendship. For me, that, I guess, is the biggest side, the more interesting side than the genius. -- Jonny Lee Miller

Jonny Lee Miller, 2011.
Jonny Lee Miller, 2011. | Source

The Two Sherlocks, the Two Creatures

For Jonny Lee Miller, the Creature portrayal is about learning to use a new body and about relationships and power. For the redoubtable Cumberbatch, the Creature is about other-worldliness and madness in a body and soul that do not function properly.

From 2010 - 2014+, Cumberbatch has portrayed the Great Detective in 21st century London. From 2012 - 2014+ Miller has been Holmes in New York City. Cumberbatch's Dr. Frankenstein is Holmes spouting scientific definitions and admitting he knows little of women and nothing of what "they are good at." His movements on stage are lyrical, long of line and flow, and I can see his Creature portrayal in them. This is perfect, since elements of each of doctor and creation are in the other's personality.

Cumberbatch presents the more believable Dr. Frankenstein of the two actors, and has taken his quirky characterization from and into his intriguing Sherlock Holmes, Kahn Noonien Singh, Julian Assange, and several others. He is strange and electric and one cannot stop watching his performance - with an eye toward running out of the theater if he gets too close.

The scruffy, unshaven, irritable Holmes of Mr. Miller translates to a more engaging Creature. He seems even a more convincing addict in his Holmes presentation than does Cumberbatch.

Learning To Walk

As the Creature, Miller stuns the audience as his man of corpse parts falls out of a dimly lit circle of beige cloth womb and onto the floor under a spot light. After the initial darkness on set, the ceiling full of copperish bulbs of several sizes blazes like a supernova.They produce lightning in other scenes and rain falls on stage.

This creature has strong body parts that do not work together. After birth, the bloody wretch vocalizes in grunts and nonsense syllables, shouts and wails, unable to control his speech or body, much in the manner of a stroke patient. His hands curl and although they lengthen and become elegant in balletic movements, they maintain a slight residual curl.

For 15 minutes, his right leg tremors more than the rest of his body convulses and this turns into a limp. He stands, falls, rolls, stands, runs headlong, and falls again. When he develops a walk, it is a toe-walk of the neurologically and muscularly impaired - I recognized it from working with these patients. It is brilliant.

Spring makes you happy WHY? -- The Creature to old blind friend.

Miller says he also put much of his then-two-year-old son into his performance and it is superb. It is a combination of toddler and neurological patient with a wide range of emotions.

Lonely, the Creature blackmails the doctor into creating a woman Creature for him. Then, Dr. Frankenstein destroys this actual girl of the Creatures dreams. The Creature howls in heartache and berates the doctor for abandoning him early on and for humanity for physically beating any opportunity for joy out of him. We see this several times in the forms of the villagers and fishermen - men and women with clubs and stones instead of torches.

Humans are the most frightening monsters.

Our rating for Frankenstein: Jonny Lee Miller as Creature

5 stars for Miller as The Creature

Do you know what's in those mountains? Snow and ice and a bit more snow and ice. -- Dr. Frankenstein's Housekeeper

On to the Pole! -- The Creature to Dr. Frankenstein

Filmed by Edison Company

Charles Ogle In Frankenstein 1910. This early film version of the Creature was almost comic in appearance, especially when compared with the Universal Pictures' Monster below.
Charles Ogle In Frankenstein 1910. This early film version of the Creature was almost comic in appearance, especially when compared with the Universal Pictures' Monster below. | Source

"The Monster"

Monsters: A Celebration of the Classics from Universal Studios
Monsters: A Celebration of the Classics from Universal Studios

This book is a moving and interesting tribute to the actors and stories of the Classic Universal Studios Horror Films of 1925 - 1956. iot is highly collectible, but affordable, including many photos never before collected together, along with essays written by family members of these stars. Personal histories of these actors are far larger and more intriguing than audiences expect. Meet Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr, the Creature From the Black Lagoon and several others.

 

Parallels to the 1930s Films

The wooden stage for NTL Frankenstein includes a center circular area that can rotate, or lift and descend with half a circle at a time, bringing scene changes. One scene descends from the ceiling as well. Grassy strips appear and disappear, as does a roaring fire. A steampunk-human train pulls up to the audience with a musical number. A grave opens up in an extra boardwalk over the audience.

Rain falls, snows shroud the stage, Lake Geneva appears with intersecting boardwalks. No laboratory table or bolts of electricity are seen anywhere. Corpses are animated through large circles of material (wombs).

For fans of the Karloff films, this play covers Frankenstein and the Bride of Frankenstein. Miller is humorous as he learns to speak, read, and recite Milton (Paradise Lost, of course). Cumberbatch is not funny to me in the part of Creature, but he is to some UK critics.

As Miller takes on the role of Dr. Frankenstein, individual frock coats that make Cumberbatch look elegant cause Miller to look as though he is wearing a knee length ripple-hem dress - he is 2" shorter and wider in musculature. The wig makes him appear boyish and a bit goofy, not scientific. However, a bit of his Creature's stuttering and balletic movements translate to his Frankenstein and we see the spot of emptiness and the abomination in them both.

When, as the bald and stitched Creature, he shouts "Frankenstein!" at Cumberbatch, it sounds like a villager in the old films shouting at the Monster. In this screenplay, it is the Creature that takes up a burning torch, rather than the villagers, and there is no Igor.

Slowly I learnt the ways of humans: how to ruin, how to hate, how to debase, how to humiliate. And at the feet of my master I learnt the highest of human skills, the skill no other creature owns: I finally learnt how to lie. -- The Creature in Nick Dear's screenplay

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Comments 8 comments

Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Thank you for this enlightening piece with two of my favorite actors.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 2 years ago from North America Author

I appreciate your comments, Ericdierker. These men are two of my favorite actors as well, and more so for Miller after this performance. Both performances give me a greater perspective concerning some of the low quality films offered the public today.


someonewhoknows profile image

someonewhoknows 2 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

Interesting notion that humans are the monsters emotionally or otherwise ! Since that's where the story of Frankenstein comes from in the first place.

The physical body that happens to be ugly in comparison to what we consider to be normal generally speaking. Then again there is, the emotional effect our attitudes have on each other .


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 2 years ago from North America Author

@someonewhoknows - Your last statement is particularly timely! In interviews presented before the film played, Miller spoke about just that - attitudes affecting other people. I was reminded of this at the end of the drama - Both the Doctor's and the Creature's wives were killed on their wedding nights and both men seek vengeance from the other, but the two now have only each other. The Creature cries when Dr. Frankenstein might die, but revives him. They trudge out of the mountains together and into the mists and snows of the Arctic to find the North Pole.

It's all not quite like the book, but I was entranced by it.


mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 2 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

You certainly show in this article that you could have had a choice of careers. This is a such a good presentation of each of the performers and their performances.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 2 years ago from North America Author

@mckbirdbks - That's nice of you to say! I was very happy to be able to see this performance and shall always remember it.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 22 months ago from Dallas, Texas

Interesting comparison of the different actors who played the Creature. I'm most familiar with the Boris Karloff version and was always somehow sad for the monster. You've captured the different nuances of each performer's talent.

I read a story about Bela Lugosi and the strange parties held at his mansion and was stunned by the actor's choices in friends and lifestyle.


steve8miller profile image

steve8miller 20 months ago from Ohio Great City of Dayton

Yes, very good production indeed. Frankenstein is a reflection of humanities more monstrous side. Ironic when the monster we created reflects the light back onto the real monsters.

A key difference between us and animals is that we are the ones who seek to destroy ourselves. That surely makes us unique in my eyes. When we look in the mirror we see such a monster we unite to destroy ourselves in order to contain it.

If only it were so simple I guess, deceived people are the ones who take such steps as to destroy themselves to maintain the great lie.

I went to see "The Women in Black" when I was younger and it was a stellar performance which I hold to this day. Would have liked to add this great work of art to my experience.

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