The Hunchback of Notre Dame has been adapted since 1836 when it was first made into an Opera. There have been many different film and musical versions of the story of the decades. None of the adaptations are 100% accurate to the book in terms of some plot points and characters. Frollo's characterization has never portrayed as the author Victor Hugo depicted even in the opera in which Hugo himself wrote the libretto.
This page look through the major movies and some well known musicals of the Hunchback of Notre Dame and looks at the portrayal of Frollo and the actors that have played him.
Frollo a la Victor Hugo
Claude Frollo is the most misunderstood characters in term of how the various version depict him. He is the catalyst of the story, if it wasn't him the story would have ended after the Feast of Fools.
Let's start off with a little backstory from the novel, Frollo was born a low grade noble. He was sent to join the clergy at a young age. As a child he was sad, sober and serious. He preferred studying to playing. He dedicated himself to learning and was a fast leaner. His joy in life was gaining knowledge and above all was science and medicine.
When he was 18, which was 1466, a plague killed his parents. His parents had just had an infant son, named Jehan. Frollo raised him and showered the child with his devotion. It was around this time that Frollo adopted Quasimodo. He did so because he felt pity for him and did it because of his younger brother, if it hadn't been for Jehan, his little brother would have been in the Foundling crib just like Quasimodo.
Over the years Jehan, Quasimodo and science turned disappointing to Frollo and he become more morose. Frollo obsessive nature turned to Esmeralda, a young Gypsy girl who he had seen dancing in front of Notre Dame. Prior to that Frollo had always tried to avoid women and he was successful but Esmeralda prove too beautiful for him. He resolved to see her again in hopes that his initial impression of her would scattered but once he saw her again he wanted to see again and again and he started stalking her.
He tried to forget her and ordered her banned from performing in front of Notre Dame, which she still continued. It wasn't till the Feast of Fools that he acted, when he used Quasimodo to kidnap her, which is when she met Phoebus.
Regarding Frollo's looks, he is balding that forms a natural tonsure. His remaining hair is gray and has a prominent high brow.
Brandon Hurst technically plays Jehan Frollo in the 1923 Lon Chaney version of Hunchback of Notre Dame which was directed by Wallace Worsley.
The criteria for Frollo is that he must be obsessed with Esmeralda and Quasimodo's care giver, which Hurst's Frollo is even though he doesn't really care for Quasimodo and this obsession for Esmeralda has no complexity .
Hurst as Frollo is scheming and manipulative. He is very fixated on Esmeralda and gaining power and he will say or do anything to achieve those means.
Hurst's Frollo is very black, no shades of gray in this performance. There is no hint given as to why he adopted Quasimodo but the relationship isn't a particular strong since Quasimodo hates Frollo after Frollo betrayed Quasimodo and left Quasimodo get punished for kidnapping Esmeralda.
This Frollo is more of a mustache twirlier than anything else which to be fair was the style at the time.
Sir Cedric Hardwicke
Sir Cedic Hardwicke played Jehan Frollo in in the Charles Laughton version in 1939, directed by William Dieterle.
Like the 1923 version, Hardwicke actually plays the younger brother, Jehan and like a certain other version, he is High Justice (Judge) of Paris.
Frollo in this version hates modernity and Gypsies. He wants nothing more than to see the Gypsies out of Paris permanently along with the evil printing press. While he is stern and cold he did take Quasimodo in but he is disappointed with Quasimodo mainly for not listening him in totality.
Frollo is obsessed with Esmeralda but his torture is underdone and sedate. He resolves that she must die in record time, he has a chat with her, tries to find her, finds her and confesses his feeling and when that fails to work he murders Phoebus and decides to she must die.
He is slightly more complex than the 1923 version as he has some misguided piety and lofty self-image of himself than doesn't include his obsession with Esmeralda. It's not clear in the movie why he is has pious angle other than the source material and the hay movie code getting in the away of depicting him as priest which is why he is the High Justice.
Alian Cuny played Frollo in the 1956 version of Hunchback of Notre Dame version directed by Jean Delannoy.
He is the first since the before 1923 where Frollo is a priest. Not only is he a priest but he also practices alchemy.
In regards to Cuny's performances, he plays Frollo very closely to original book, his torment for loving Esmeralda is very apparent. The only thing is that while Frollo is not exactly old, he was 36 in book, but he is supposed to look old, with an almost bald head and he not suppose to be attractive. Cuny looks too young and too handsome. With a quick wardrobe change he could have passed for Phoebus.
Kenneth Haigh played Frollo in the 1976 British TV series directed by Alan Cooke.
Haigh's Frollo is a priest and does practices Alchemy like in the book and in the 1956 version. He plays the role straight and to the book. Like many other Frollos, Haigh feels too young and not austere enough for the role.
Derek Jacobi plays Claude Frollo in the 1982 British-American TV movie of Hunchback of Notre Dame. It was directed Michael Tuchner and Alan Hume.
Jacobi's Frollo falls into instant infatuation with Esmeralda the second he sees her. He tries very quickly to get close to Esmeralda and when that fails he then tries to kidnap her, he then tries to buy Esmeralda from Gringoire, and he does all the other Frollo obsessive actions (jail scene, appeal before hanging and more or less the Port Rouge scene). Jacobi does a good job as Frollo he seems not in full control of his emotions and very desperate.
Jacobi get one of the weakest death scene for Frollo. In the book, Frollo is thrown off Notre Dame by Quasimodo, in the 82 version he is stabbed.
In regards to looks, Jacobi also has a full head of hair even though I think it's trying to be a tonsure, the classical monk haircut.
The 1996 Disney version
Disney's version Judge Claude Frollo is voiced by Tony Jay. Much like Hardwicke's Frollo from 1939, Disney's Frollo is a judge who holds great control over Paris.
Frollo believes that what ever he does is justified, from killing an innocent mother to attempted infanticide, and attempted genocide. Frollo is guilted into raising Quasimodo out of guilt for killing Quasimodo's mother.
Frollo is very abusive towards Quasimodo. His abuse takes the form of gas lighting, insults and violent outbursts. Frollo even goes so far to try and stab Quasimodo after Quasimodo saves Esmeralda and Frollo realizes his control over his ward is gone.
Frollo's obsession for Esmeralda in this version is very creepy, which akin to the novel but given his outright hated he has for her people, it gives even more of a sinister connotation.
Basically this Frollo is all control, of his city and himself and Esmeralda gets in the away of both bring him to even more madness.
Tony Jay's voice is great for Frollo, it's cold and stern and there just a hint of menace without ever sounding over-the-top evil
Richard Harris played Dom Frollo the 1997 version called "The Hunchback" directed by Peter Medak.
Harris' Frollo is a bit different than the other Frollos, while he wants Esmeralda, he is more concerned the evil printing press and seeing it destroyed. The crime to which Esmeralda is accused in the result of Frollo stabbing a man relation to the press with Esmeralda's dagger.
Harris come off very old for Frollo, at least book Frollo has some hair. Harris looks like an emperor Palpatine.
1998 Version (musical)
Daniel Lavoie played Frollo in the original cast of the French musical Notre Dame de Paris written by Richard Cocciante and Luc Plamondon.
He is a priest and studies science, those are his great loves till he meets Esmeralda. Frollo is very tormented by this infatuation with Esmeralda. For Frollo he was proud that he was above earthly emotions, so to fall 'love" and to be a priest prove too overwhelming for him.
He also fears that his desire is turning him into a criminal and that he'll die in his passion for her and though he losing control he feels no remorse about it either.
Lavoie's acting is very restrained and methodically. Lavoie is very expressive in voice and eyes, and his internal conflict is apparent. He never seems to know what to do with his hand and this gives a vulnerability not seen in many renditions of Frollo.
1999 Version (Parody)
Yes, this is a real movie.
Richard Berry plays Serge Frollo in the 1999 parody film called Quasimodo d'El Paris. It was directed by Patrick Timsit who also played Quasimodo).
Frollo in this version cares for Quasimodo after Quasimodo wealthy parents traded him in for Esmeralda (renamed Agnes). This is a slight inversion of what happens in the book.
Frollo is trying to save prostitutes from the fires of hell but his grand scheme is kidnapping women and turning them into gargoyles by encasing them in stone. He thinks this makes people happy. He desires Esmeralda but Frollo was messed up prior to meeting her and he tries to kill her instead of Phoebus, who he does stab.
Unlike other versions of the character, Berry gives a fun performance in this parody version. Oddly enough this version quotes a rather long line from book almost verbatim.
Patrick Page as Frollo
In 2014, a revised musical version of The Disney movie was performed at The La Jolla House in San Diego, California and then at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn New Jersey in April 2015.
The idea was this version was going to be put on Broadway but it instead was licensed out to regional theatre companies throughout the USA. It also had performance in Germany, Japan, and Sweden.
Frollo in this version is more of blend between this actions in the Disney movie and his characterization of the book. Whereas in the Disney version he starts off as the evil bad guy, however in this version, he starts as misguided man stuck in his own strict beliefs that as that has the story unfolds, he becomes more corrupted by his obsession.
Unlike the Disney version or the book, Frollo is Quasimodo's uncle which does offer a different take on their dynamic. Much like the book where Frollo takes in Quasimodo due to love of his brother, in the musical Quasimodo is the child of Frollo's brother, Jehan and a Romani woman. Frollo and Jehan had a following out after Jehan snuck some women into the church and Frollo cast this brother out leading to Jehan's death. Frollo considers Quasimodo less than and his cross to bear.
Overall this version of Frollo is more like the book version of the character than the Disney version but you can see the blend of the two character in this version.
A Frollo Poll
Which Character from Hunchback is your favorite?
2envelopparadox on April 24, 2014:
anonymous on October 28, 2012:
Nice lens!!!!! Very informative and FUN!!!!!
anonymous on November 14, 2011:
My favorite adaptation is the musical, and Lavoie is superb, but I think they make Frollo too evil - he tortures Esmeralda and is too brutal in dungeon scene, which is brilliant scene itself but ... yea. Disney version is overrated - despite Hellfire, story is horribly mangled, especially what comes to the characters of Phoebus and Frollo. Jacobi is quite Frollo-esque - a priest who lusts Esmeralda, tries to rape her, leaves her to death, but also can't stand her pain, feels remorse of his actions etc. Haigh is not bad, Cuny is excellent but script makes too evil - leaves Esmeralda to torture and death without dungeon scene - and Harris gets wonderful Frollo-esque speech to Esmeralda, but script is against him.