Gods and Monsters

Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.

The Hollywood Story: Gods and Monsters

Awesome? Magnificent? Captivating? Sublime? We’re not sure there’s a superlative in the English language that can do Sir Ian McKellen justice.

For proof, look no further than McKellen’s 1998 breakout performance in Gods and Monsters. Then in his late 50s, McKellen had only appeared in a handful of movies, relegating his spellbinding acting abilities to stage performances. Subsequent to the release of the film, he would score his first Oscar nomination and land the roles of Magneto and Gandalf that would cement his status as a screen legend.

But it all began with Gods and Monsters. In the film, McKellen plays Frankenstein director James Whale–a man who lived an openly gay life throughout his career in the early 20th century. By the 1950s, however, Whale’s star had faded, and a ministroke had robbed him of his creative drive. The story picks up just after Whale’s stroke, when a handsome young gardener named Clay Boone (Brendan Frasier) comes to tend to Whale’s bushes. Whale finds himself attracted to the younger man, and the two begin an oddball friendship as Boone begins posing for Whale to sketch. As Whale faces unpleasant truths about his waning life, Boone begins to face his own insecurities around his own background and masculinity. Is Whale trying to create his perfect mate? Or does he want something darker?

Writer/director Bill Condon won a well-deserved Oscar for his screenplay, based on a novel by Christoper Bram. McKellen also should have won for his heartbreaking performance (sorry, Roberto Benigni). The actor brings a natural pathos to Whale: he is, by turns, hilarious, dirty, and deeply ashamed–not of his sexuality, but of his lower-class upbringing under an abusive father, and his betrayal of an early boyfriend during World War I. Fraiser also delivers the best performance of his career as Boone, a man whose brutish masculinity hides a childlike fear. Touching, stylish, and featuring one of the greatest performances in movie history, we cannot recommend it highly enough.

Streams on HBO Max, Hulu, Amazon, YouTube & iTunes.

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