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Daniel Radcliffe & James McAvoy’s ‘Victor Frankenstein’ Nails One Thing

The Big Picture

  • 2015’s
    Victor Frankenstein
    , starring Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy, is far from a successful adaptation, but it captures the empathy present in Mary Shelley’s original novel.
  • Rather than frame the film with a horror lens, like the classic Universal adaptations,
    Victor Frankenstein
    focuses more closely on showing Victor’s good intentions and motivation for his scientific pursuits.
  • Victor Frankenstein

    nails the relationship between Victor and Igor, particularly due to Radcliffe and McAvoy’s chemistry in the film.

Ever since Boris Karloff first haunted the silver screen in James Whale’s iconic 1931 adaptation of Frankenstein, audiences have been enamored with the incredible story in Mary Shelleys original novel. Evoking visceral horror with its shocking imagery and telling a timeless story about mankind’s doomed attempts to “play God,” Frankenstein is a narrative that is ripe for new versions and reimaginings. Given that the rights to the characters and narrative of Frankenstein are now within the public domain, there has been no shortage of adaptations, such as Mel Brooks‘ humorous take on the literary monster in Young Frankenstein. While it certainly can’t hold a candle to these all-time classics, the 2015 Victor Frankenstein origin film captures the empathetic heart of Shelley’s original text.


Victor Frankenstein

Told from Igor’s perspective, we see the troubled young assistant’s dark origins, his redemptive friendship with the young medical student Viktor Von Frankenstein, and become eyewitnesses to the emergence of how Frankenstein became the man – and the legend – we know today.

Release Date
November 10, 2015

Paul McGuigan


Main Genre

Max Landis , Mary Shelley

20th Century Fox

What Is ‘Victor Frankenstein’ About?

Set within London in the 1860s, Victor Frankenstein retains the period setting and basic narrative outline of the original novel. While even Whale’s classic added in elements of visceral terror that made it fit within the tone of Universal’s monster movie franchise, Victor Frankenstein keeps the story squarely focused on science. James McAvoy stars as a young, eccentric version of the titular scientist, who is lambasted by his community for his bizarre experiments. Although many within London’s scientific community have come to respect the intelligence that Victor clearly possesses, they tend to agree that his skills have been wasted on saving “freaks” and helping those in need. The radically religious police inspector Roderick Turpin (Andrew Scott) holds a particular distaste for Victor, as he’s come to believe that his aptitude for revamping the human body borders on blasphemy to the Church.

Although many other Frankenstein adaptations have depicted the titular scientist as a shrewd and caustic recluse, Victor Frankenstein shows the empathy and earnestness that is present in Shelley’s original novel. Given his stature within London’s high society, Victor could very easily spend a lifetime treating wealthy patients and simply retaining the status quo; however, he goes out of his way to travel to circuses and meet with carnival performers that are considered “freaks” by the rest of society. Victor’s kindness is evident through an early scene in which he helps to drain a cyst from the body of an enslaved hunchback whom he renames Igor (Daniel Radcliffe). Instead of being a lowly minion like he’s been portrayed in other adaptations, Igor is a sympathetic character who is given an opportunity to use his skills for good, thanks to Victor’s inventions. A strong performance from Radcliffe helps ensure that the connection between the two characters isn’t lost.


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While McAvoy’s terrific performance does a great job at making a more likable protagonist, Victor Frankenstein delves deeper into the character’s motivations for creating life. Although Igor is initially curious as to why Victor is so specific in demanding that they only experiment on corpses, he learns why the secluded scientist is so concerned about human life. Victor lost his younger brother, Henry, when he was a child, and has spent the rest of his life in mourning. Victor’s vindictive father blamed him for his brother’s death, leading Victor to spend his entire life dedicated to making up for this perceived indiscretion. This reframes Victor’s motivations for wanting to create a creature in the first place; perhaps by helping to create a new form of life, he will finally be absolved in the eyes of his abusive father.

‘Victor Frankenstein’ Is an Accurate Depiction of Mary Shelley’s Novel

James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe in 'Victor Frankenstein'
Image via 20th Century Fox

Although it is often treated as a gothic horror movie, Frankenstein is a tragedy about the misapplication of genius. Victor Frankenstein is able to remember this element of the novel by showing that there is no maliciousness on Victor’s part. He only goes behind the officers of Scotland Yard to gather resources because he feels that his experiments will never be approved in an official capacity; Victor does not have enough faith in his superiors to trust them with insight about what he plans to do. While this may reveal that he has a bit of an ego, the film reveals that Victor’s knowledge comes as a burden to him. It’s due to Victor’s unflinching kindness that he becomes blind to the consequences of his actions.

While a majority of the film is centered on the dynamic between Radcliffe and McAvoy, Victor Frankenstein does not overlook the tragedy of the creature itself. The monster, which Victor and Igor name “Prometheus” (Spencer Wilding and Guillaume Delaunay) is not a slasher movie villain. Rather, he is a misunderstood creature who had no say in his revitalization, and does not have the capacity to understand what his role in the world is. The eventual violence that emerges once Prometheus is revealed to the world is the result of a lack of empathy on the part of Turpin and the other bigots within his regime.

James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe Have Great Chemistry in ‘Victor Frankenstein’

While the film tries a little too hard to evoke the style of a Guy Ritchie movie, Victor Frankenstein nails the relationship between Victor and Igor thanks to the strong work by McAvoy and Radcliffe, respectively. McAvoy perfectly embodies the personality of an unflinchingly committed, passionate scientist who no longer has any grasp on reality; Radcliffe perfectly captures Igor’s ethical dilemma, as he is afraid to question the man who saved his life. While Victor Frankenstein keeps the story fairly grounded in reality, the banter between McAvoy and Radcliffe adds some unexpected moments of comedy.

While Frankenstein adaptations are becoming more common, Victor Frankenstein engages with the themes of the original source material rather than the iconography. When compared to such disastrous iterations like I, Frankenstein and Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 film, perhaps Victor Frankenstein didn’t deserve the toxic reputation that it seemed to earn upon its initial release.

Victor Frankenstein is available to stream on Max in the U.S.

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