Even goddesses sometime make mis-steps and this modern-day rewriting of Frankenstein by Jed Mercurio probably fits closer to that category than anything else I’ve seen her in. A 2007 ITV special, it adapted Mary Shelley’s story into a contemporary world of stem cells and genetic engineering and cast McCrory as the lead, Doctor Victoria Frankenstein if you will. The new take is superficially surprisingly effective as the main thrust of the story is that Victoria is running an organ-growing experiment – the Universal Xenograft project – and is extremely motivated by the fact her young son is suffering from a terminal disease, his only hope being multiple organ transplant… As his condition worsens, so her desperation increases, resulting in her injecting her son William’s blood into the procedure though it is too late to save him. This has unexpected consequences though and in the murky void between bioethics and unscrupulous moneymen, the experiment is allowed to continue though no-one is sure exactly what has been created.
The emotional power of the story is heightened by the simple gender switch, McCrory excels at evoking the earth-shattering grief of a mother nursing her dying child and struggling to come to terms with the reality of his condition. That she channels her energies into her research is unsurprising and it is not by chance that it takes 9 months for the being – the UX – to enter the world. The relationship that then develops between creature and creator is then a most twisted one because of the genetic material contained within, part of her dead son is in the UX and in her grieving state, the lines become blurred. Contrasted against this relationship is the cold calculating mind of Victoria’s boss, Professor Pretorius – a steely turn from Lindsay Duncan – who is alive to the monetary and business potential that has come from this huge scientific breakthough. Victoria’s estranged husband also reappears on the scene though he is not all he seems as he has his own designs on the UX.
But for all the poignancy that is wrought by McCrory’s performance, there is no hiding how rushed the story around her is. The entire thing is over and done with in 90 minutes in this director’s cut (it was 75 minutes on original broadcast) and so there is often the sense that we’re hurrying from plot point to plot point. Victoria’s colleagues suffer most here, Neil Pearson and Benedict Wong are given far too little to deal with to really convince before they are offed by the UX. And there’s also a slight uncertainty of tone, exactly how much of a horror story is Mercurio trying to tell here (he also directs) as the creature itself looks more like ET’s cousin who’s been around the block and though there is much brutality in its action, it rarely evokes genuine fear or horror. Rather it is pity that emerges, due to the manipulations and punishments it is forced to undergo as people try to discover exactly what it is.