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mary shelley

DIRECTOR: Haifaa al-Mansour (wadjda, women without shadows)
STARRING: elle fanning, douglas booth, bel powley, and massie williams


REVIEWER: emily carter


The true story of the love and loss that spurred Mary Shelley to create Frankenstein. 

Humble beginnings and chilling 'middles' made life what it was for Mary Shelley. An eighteenth century teenager with her mind on rough realities and disillusioned by others, this film will take you down dark paths only fitting for this character's life story.


Mary (Elle Fanning) is the daughter of a renowned philosopher, living in his struggling bookshop with an unloving stepmother and a stepsister who is as keen to escape as Mary herself. Still haunted by the death of a mother she never knew, Mary takes to writing tales filled with dark thoughts and twisted feelings, often while sitting in a graveyard. When the relationship between her and her stepmother becomes particularly toxic, Mary briefly moves to Scotland to live with extended family for a while. It's here she meets Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth), and her life follows an unforeseen path.


Please pardon my complete and sheer ignorance, but I had no idea of the truth of this film until the credits rolled. Upon watching the trailer I had the impression it was a dark tale, fictionalised and loosely connected to the story Frankenstein in some way. I had no idea that Mary Shelley really is the eighteen year old author of the original Frankenstein. A teenaged female wrote this twisted tale in the eighteenth century - even just unpacking that is mind-boggling. An eighteen year old has to experience some love, loss, rejection and hardship to create such a strange and nuanced character as Frankenstein. And to then have the fearlessness to be a woman and have it published during that time is almost unbelievable. That is why this is a story worth uncovering!


Elle Fanning is so raw yet graceful in her interpretation of Mary and portrays the flowing and fizzling out of innocence throughout the film. Bel Powley who plays her step sister Claire, becomes a frustrating companion that you have lingering questions about even after the credits roll - a fitting way to represent the gaps best left unfilled in historical tales. And Douglas Booth plays Percy Shelley - a character we both love and loathe in equal measures, but he carries it believably.


Not often one to be captured by the visual elements, I felt compelled to make a mention of it for this film. The misty settings were quite beautiful, rather than a cemetery-and-smoke-machine look that can plague thriller-esque type films like this. The whole film feels like it's shrouded in shadow, which really does fit the often sad sequence of events it's portraying.


Upon discovering that Mary Shelley was Frankenstein's author, I wished more of Frankenstein, her thoughts while writing it and the time afterwards was focused on more heavily. But part of me felt like this film was obviously supposed to show the sequence of events that leads to an idea like Frankenstein being born at all.


Did Mary Shelley impress because of the truth behind it? Was it a tale that that perhaps wowed me more by its truth than its wow-factor as a film? I can't quite put my finger on it but I know this is a story I'll still be pondering on for days yet.

A terrific insight into the life, love, and loss of feminist icon Mary Shelley 


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