Starring Elle Fanning, Douglas Booth, Bel Powley, Ben Hardy, Stephen Dillane, Tom Sturridge, Maisie Williams
You must certainly admire the pace at which Haifaa Al-Mansour has risen to become the first Saudi filmmaker to direct a Hollywood film. However, her direction of this well-known historical figure doesn’t turn out so well. The life of the woman behind Frankenstein is full of drama and tragedy. Elle Fanning does a good job at carrying the film on her shoulders, she is in every frame. Al-Mansour’s script and direction spend too much time on Mary Shelley’s teen romance and courtship. The more inspired and relevant elements of the story, an exceptional writer being denied publishing credit because she is female, is tossed to the final scenes of the movie. Essentially “Mary Shelley” misses an opportunity to be an important biopic, focusing instead on a story aimed at young adults.
“Find your own voice,” William Godwin (Dillane) advised his oldest daughter Mary (Fanning) before sending her to Scotland for refuge and solitude. Her 16-year-old cavalier personality was causing friction with her spiteful stepmother, so to keep the peace Mary left. In Scotland, she meets 21-year-old romance poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (Booth) who infects her with even more liberal ideas than she arrived with. They begin a love affair destined to cause scandal since he is already married. Disowned by her renowned publishing father, Mary begins a stressful life of worry about money, marriage, and miscarriages. All of this pushes her further from growing as a writer until the ultimate sorrow would inspire her greatest work.
In some scenes “Mary Shelley” feels more like an episode of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” than an impactful feature film.
“Professor Marsden and the Wonder Women” was a film that balanced telling the story of how an iconic non-fictional character came into being while simultaneously exploring the complicated relationships behind its creation. “Mary Shelley” is doing the exact same, just not very well. The relationships explored here amount to little more than, ‘he’s cheating,’ ‘she’s upset,’ ‘did those two guys just kiss?’ The film is peppered with “soon Mary will deliver a work that surpasses us all,” reminding the viewer what they bought a ticket for in the first place. In some scenes “Mary Shelley” feels more like an episode of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” than an impactful feature film.
The script already took liberties by removing pieces from Shelley’s history, like her multiple miscarriages, so it’s curious why the script didn’t try to focus on subject matter heftier than ‘who is sleeping with whom.’ Outside of Fanning’s performance, composer Amelia Warner (Aeon Flux) does some great work with the music that makes the film even more bittersweet. “Game of Thornes” stars Stephen Dillane and Maisie Williams don’t get enough screen time to really dig into their characters, but their presence does benefit the production. When all is said and done, I left the theater still wanting to know more about Shelley’s life and angry that this film doesn’t do her justice.
The filmmaker can’t get a strong hold on the most important aspects of the authors life.