Mary Godwin (Elle Fanning) is the 16-year-old daughter of political philosopher William Godwin (Stephen Dillane), who loves reading books in her father’s London bookshop. After being sent to Scotland after a fight with her stepmother, Mary meets 21 year old poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth), who she quickly develops feelings for. Despite the fact that he is already married with child, Mary decides to run off with Percy, taking her step-sister Claire (Bel Powley) along with her. However, the blissful romance soon gives away to disappointment and heartbreak, which influences Mary to write a book entitled “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus“.
There are moments within Mary Shelley, the sophomore film by Saudi Arabian filmmaker Haifaa Al Mansour, in which the titular character has a series of nightmares, which visualizes Mary Shelley’s ideas for what will become her first and most famous novel “Frankenstein.” However, as it turns out, the actual writing of “Frankenstein” turns out to be only a small element of this biopic. Instead, Haifaa Al Mansour depicts Mary Shelley as a protofeminist, who goes through many hardships on her journey to writing the novel. From her antagonistic relationship with her stepmother to her disappointing fling with Percy Shelley, all of Mary’s experiences provides inspiration for her eventual novel.
Elle Fanning fits in well with the mostly British cast, which includes “Game of Thrones” actors Stephen Dillane and Maisie Williams. As a biopic, Mary Shelley is a fine enough watch, even though there isn’t much to separate it from all other British period dramas.
Is Mary Shelley Essential Viewing?
While the few horror-tinged nightmares deviates from the formula a bit, Mary Shelley can come off as a bit dry for those not really into period-set British dramas. However, you cannot deny that the film has a feminist slant, which depicts Mary Shelley as an independent woman in a world largely controlled by men.