Mary Shelley doesn’t focus on Frankenstein until the final half hour but the headliner is preceded by a lifeless under-card that’s not even worthy of pay-per-view.
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Elle Fanning) was the woman who would go on to pen the famous Frankenstein novel. Before getting there, the future author had a relationship with romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth). Their relationship was not one in which their family endorsed, which explains why the two ran away and were joined by Mary’s step-sister, Claire Clairmont (Bel Powley). The relationship was a tense one and this tension was very much on display when they stayed at Lord Byron’s (Tom Sturridge) house at Lake Geneva.
The Frankenstein story doesn’t start until after Lord Byron invites Mary, Percy, and Mary’s stepsister, Claire, to a house being rented along Lake Geneva in Switzerland. The rest, as they say, is history. After reading German horror tales, it was Byron who suggests everyone write a story. Mary’s story became Frankenstein but despite working on it with her husband, Percy took all the credit.
The early 1800s was a time in which female authors were not accepted. It was unfair to watch Mary see Percy get all the credit. It really shows the misogyny of the day at work. At the insistence of her father, William (Stephen Dillane), a second publication of the book was secured with Mary’s name rightfully on the cover. Mary wasn’t the only one suffered as a result of the fateful stay at the lake house. Dr. John William Polidori (Ben Hardy) managed to see his work, The Vampyre, stolen by Lord Byron. While both would later see the wrongs berighted, it led to Polidori’s depression battle and later suicide.
Emma Jensen’s screenplay makes for an interesting selection by focusing on Percy Shelley’s courtship of Mary rather than her writing Frankenstein. It’s a choice that stands out among the many author biopics of 2017. After all, 2017 was the year of the author biopic. It’s not until the film’s final half hour in which Mary wakes up from a nightmare and starts to write the haunting novel. It’s a disappointment in that we have to sit through the entire first half and then some before Mary pens as much as a word of the classic Gothic novel.
There’s not much to enjoy about Mary Shelley when the final half hour is preceded by an under-card that doesn’t live up to expectations.
DIRECTOR: Haifaa Al Mansour
SCREENWRITER: Emma Jensen
CAST: Elle Fanning, Douglas Booth, Joanne Froggatt, Maisie Williams, with Bel Powley and Tom Sturridge.
An official selection of the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, Mary Shelley will hold it’s U.S. premiere in the Spotlight Narrative program. Mary Shelley premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.