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Frankenstein: A Modern Myth * 23 June 2012

Frankenstein Doc

Image: The Frankenstein Monster Painting - Dick Bobnick

Yesterday the Open City Docs Fest at University College London played host to the first public screening of 'Frankenstein: A Modern Myth', a documentary that examines the legacy of the original story by Mary Shelley, viewed through the prism of last year's celebrated production at The National Theatre starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller.

It's important to note that despite initial conceptions, the documentary is certainly not a behind the scenes piece on the play itself. While the production features extensively through the use of rehearsal footage, generous material culled from both versions of the play recorded for National Theatre Live, and the use of Underworld's score from the show throughout, the focus is instead far more wide ranging.

The documentary takes in a biography of writer Mary Shelley and her place in society at the time; examinations of previous incarnations of the creature, including Boris Karloff's iconic portrayal; the creation of screen monsters - including interviews with director John Waters and his creation of the drag artist Divine; the debate of science verses nature and the ethical dilemmas inherent to the themes of the story; the case for nature verses nurture, including a visit to Broadmoor Hospital and interviews with the facilities' head psychiatric doctor; and of course, the play itself.

If that sounds like a lot to cover, it is, but the documentary deftly navigates all areas to produce a fascinating portrait of all aspects the original novel touches upon, both in the past and present, with a look to the future.

In terms of material from the play itself, there is new rehearsal footage contained within, as well as new interviews with Danny Boyle and Nick Dear. Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller's contribution outside the rehearsal material is restricted to discussion about their performances as The Creature, footage which you may have already seen if you attended one of the National Theatre Live screenings of the play. While this may sound disappointing, the documentary does perform the neat trick of cross cutting and repeating footage from the play, allowing a definitive look at the contrasts both actors bring to their roles.

After the screening, a brief Q&A with producers from The National Theatre confirmed that the documentary is still due to broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK this Summer, though exact scheduling is still to be confirmed. There is also a desire to bring the documentary to DVD for home video release, though when questioned by the audience it was re-confirmed that the cinema will remain the current home of the play itself, due to the artistic desires of the actors and Danny Boyle to retain the communal, shared experience of the theatre as best as possible.

We'll be updating when a broadcast date for Frankenstein: A Modern Myth is decided upon by Channel 4. We heartily recommend it as a companion piece to both the book, and the play - it was especially interesting having freshly seen the National Theatre Live encores this past week.