And that’s why Ian McKellen is one of the coolest guys in the world

Gods and monsters

Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend of diving into adjacent queer and queer past titles worth watching or revisiting.

Hollywood History: Gods and Monsters

Awesome? Magnificent? Captivating? Gorgeous? We are not sure there is a superlative in English that can do Sir Ian McKellen justice.

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

But it all started with gods and monsters. In the film, McKellen plays Frankenstein director James Whale – a man who lived an openly gay life throughout his career at the turn of the 20th century. By the 1950s, however, Whale’s star had faded and a minitroke robbed him of his creative impetus. The story picks up right after Whale’s hit, when a handsome young gardener named Clay Boone (Brendan Frasier) comes to tend the Whale bushes. Whale finds himself drawn to the young man and the two begin a strange friendship as Boone begins to pose for Whale to draw. As Whale faces unpleasant truths about his dwindling life, Boone begins to face his own insecurities around his own background and his 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 should also have won for his heartbreaking performance (sorry, Roberto Benigni). The actor brings a natural pathos to Whale: he’s alternately hilarious, dirty, and deeply ashamed – not about his sexuality, but his lower-class education under an abusive father and his betrayal of a boyfriend in the beginning. World War I. Fraiser also delivers the best performance of his career as Boone, a man whose brutal manhood hides a childish fear. Touching, stylish, and featuring one of the greatest performances in movie history, we can’t recommend it highly enough.

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

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