A young girl sitting beside her mother's grave is a fitting spot to introduce the audience to the author of Frankenstein Mary Shelley (Elle Fanning). The daughter of two romantic era minds leaning towards the macabre. Thinking of curdling blood, ghosts and tearing flesh when she scribbles stories in her notebook. Her passions conflict with the sensibilities of her order driven step-mother. Leading her kind father to send his sixteen-year-old daughter to Scotland for a change of scenery. There, she meets her soon to be chum Isabel Baxter (Maise Williams) followed by her partner in joy, sorrow, creativity and debauchery Percy Shelly (Douglas Booth). Upon her return to London, she runs off with Percy and her half-sister Claire (Bel Powley) then 18 when inspired by a challenge while visiting with Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge) in Lake Geneva to write Frankenstein during which a gentle Dr. Polidori (Ben Hardy) also penned the Vampire.
Director Haiffa al-Mansour plays against type in helming the film. Mansour's prior feature Wadjda is set in Saudi Arabia featuring a pre-teen who also bucks the social norms of the day in her setting. The story has it's uneven moments but does shine when portraying the transient lifestyle of the romantic era scribers. On the other side of the ledger are the petulant child attitudes of Percy and Byron as they booze insult and torment Mary, Claire and the Doctor. Ironically the mocking pair end up with credit for the novices Mary and the Doctor's creations.
Elle Fanning has good moments as Mary especially when battling against her step-mother, father, Percy and then publishers when attempting to get Frankenstein published. Bel Powely is effective as Claire Clairmont. Taking to bed when Mary traveled to Scotland. Tagging along when Mary runs off with Percy. Claire embodies the romantic era woman, displaying her charms to both Lord Byron and Percy perfectly happy to be a layabout wherever the troop shall land. Stephen Dillane is steadying in the role of Mary's dad William Godwin. A respected philosopher who will not let anyone speak badly of Mary's ultra-feminist mom. He is firm when needed but encouraging to Mary's growth and development.
Mary Shelly takes a different approach to tell the tale of the creation of Frankenstein. The attention is focused directly on the writer and her personal experiences as opposed to the excess and horror of that time in Geneva as portrayed in Ken Russell's Gothic. A bit more of the harder edge could have helped to show the inspiration for the tale as opposed to rooting it in the repeated disappointments she suffered at the hands of Percy. The film features several good elements of the time but lacks that electric spark to jolt the piece to life.
**1/2 Out of 4.
Marry Shelley | Haiffa al-Mansour | UK/ Luxembourg/USA | 2018 | 120 Minutes.
Tags: Frankenstein, Author, Poet, Romantic Era, Gothic, Scotland, Switzerland, London, Wine, Phantasmagoria, Galvanising, Reanimation, Science Fiction, The Nightmare.