English-born film director James Whale (Ian McKellen) lives in a fancy Pacific Palisades home in the late 1950s with Hanna (Lynn Redgrave), his strict Hungarian housekeeper. Recovering from a heart attack, he is restless amid all the relics of his career. The gay director amuses himself with a visit by a young film student who interviews him, but his real interest perks up when he meets Clayton (Brendan Fraser), a muscular gardener. After telling him stories of his life and career, Whale comes up with a special project for this heterosexual who lives alone in a trailer.

This fictional take-off on the life and mysterious death of James Whale is written and directed by Bill Condon. Through flashbacks we learn of the protagonist's work on Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, the loss of his one true love during World War I, and his isolation after a 1939 film flop. Ian McKellen works wonders with this complex character whose wit and sophistication mask his deep regrets about the past. Lynn Redgrave puts in a stellar performance as his strait-laced Christian housekeeper who loves her employer but disapproves of his sexual orientation. Brendan Fraser plays Clayton with just the right mix of naivete and fascination with the mysterious celebrity. The fact that both men deeply identify with Frankenstein, the lonely outsider, is what bonds them together on an emotional and spiritual level.