Coming to theaters from director Haifaa Al Mansour and IFC Films is the story of Frankenstein told from his lovely creator “Mary Shelley.”
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Elle Fanning) is a young girl who misses the mother she never knew and deals with step-mother Mary Jane (Joanne Froggatt) she wishes she didn’t. Her father William (Stephen Dillane) is a renown philosopher who sees something wild in his daughter. Consistently putting her thoughts to paper, she is looking for a life that is not the norm.
Seeing all this, Mary’s father sends her to visit Isabel Baxter (Maisie Williams), a family who understands her in a surprising way. When the Baxter’s hold a gathering, Mary sees Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth) and is moved to hear he is a poet. They begin spending time together discussing things she has not been able to with anyone else.
But their time is short lived when Mary is recalled home to sister Claire (Bel Powley) who misses her. The tension that was there before has returned and the only light is a gentleman caller who wishes to be mentored by Mr. Godwin. Mary is stunned when it is Percy who comes through the door.
Wanting to be together, Mary’s father is outraged and Claire only begs to go when she does. Packing up to start a new life, the two meet with Percy moving into a place of their own. Mary and Percy’s happiness is hanging by a thread as she tries to recover from tragedy as well as the cruel gossip.
Out for a night, they all meet Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge) who invites them to come to his country estate for a visit. Claire is more than thrilled as she tells Mary that she’s not the only one that can land a poet. There are constant drinking and discussion but Mary cannot find her words. That is when Byron throws a challenge for them each to write a ghost story.
The only horror is when Claire is devastated by Byron and Mary doesn’t want to live the craziness of a poet’s life. Returning to London, she puts pen to paper and creates “Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus,” yet no one will publish her works. Even friend John Polidori (Ben Hardy) writes his “ghost story” and it was stolen from him.
Mary wonders if anything is going to change when the two people she needs to stand by her most do just that. She made her own rules and wrote her own way to being Mary Shelley.
Fanning as Mary is delicate, determined, soft-spoken, fierce in attitude and lyrical in her writings. It is easy to forget that this was life in 18th century London and Mary’s role as a woman was carved in unmovable stone. Fanning’s performance gives us all and more with her alabaster and frail appearance. Underneath that is a fire this actress gives to a woman who knows that she doesn’t fit in to the mold. Her thought process and creativity are bursting and only the distraction of Shelley slows her down. Taking her life experiences to further her quest is not only staggering but breathtaking at the same time.
Booth as Percy is everything a rogue poet would look like to me. He is dark in his writings and seductive when he focuses on something — singularly Mary. Believing he can have the bohemian life with her, it is his narcissism and entitlement that gets in the way of them both. Booth gives that performance from beginning to end with a hope of redemption for the man he is portraying.
Dillane as Godwin is a father who sees his daughter has not been happy most of her life. Dreaming of a mother she never knew, he can only encourage her to find the words to make her life have meaning. Froggatt as Mary Jane does a fantastic job in getting me not to like her which is so weird because she was one of my favorite “Downton Abbey” characters.
Powley as Claire is a young woman who wants the same thing as Mary and the only way to get it is to live in her shadow. Sturridge as Lord Byron plays a man who has no conscious at all and has no qualms about using anyone for anything he needs. What a strange place 18th century London was!
Williams has a small role as Isabel, the cousin who seems to understand the wild side of Mary and encourages it. She is swift and charming as only Williams can be.
Other cast include: Ben Hardy as John Polidori, Hugh O’Conor as Samuel Coleridge, Ciara Charteris as Harriet Shelley, Sarah Lamesch as Eliza and Jack Hickey as Thomas Hogg.
“Mary Shelley” is a deep and intense period drama about a woman who was clearly born in the wrong century. Her grasp of the written word came at an early age with her desire to get out everything hiding within her. Trying to live the best life by her terms, it seemed her terms were even to difficult for those around her to grasp.
Falling in love with Shelley could be considered the step off of a difficult life but who are we to judge that. How many of us have chosen to be with a person we know is wrong for us or will challenge our sanity — yet we still do it? That is exactly what happened to Mary to the day Percy died.
I have read books about Mary Shelley’s life and to say it was a difficult one is an understatement. Deaths of family, children and constantly being questioned about the authorship of “Frankenstein,” I have long admired her tenacity to put all of it at bay and continue with her work while raising her son.
The film gives only a powerful glimpse of her life as a young woman but it is so well and beautifully done. The cinematography and costuming lend itself to bringing me into the story quickly and keeping me until the very end.
Mary Shelley wanted a life different than the women of her time and the difficulty in doing so is putting yourself in harm’s way with society. Like today, chatterboxes and gossipers can destroy a person with word and Mary couldn’t escape that. The truth is that it would take many Mary’s to get where we are today and that is enough reason to want to know more about this rare woman.
In the end — her greatest love inspired her darkest creation!