Mary Shelley
dir Haifaa Al-Mansour
scr Emma Jensen
prd Amy Baer, Ruth Coady, Alan Moloney
with Elle Fanning, Douglas Booth, Tom Sturridge, Bel Powley, Stephen Dillane, Ben Hardy, Joanne Froggatt, Maisie Williams, Hugh O'Conor, Ciara Charteris, Jack Hickey, Sarah Lamesch
release US 25.May.18, UK 6.Jul.18
17/UK HanWay 1h58
Mary Shelley
Meeting of minds: Fanning, Booth and Sturridge

powley dillane froggatt
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Mary Shelley From Saudi director Haifaa Al-Mansour (Wadjda), this biopic about one of the world's most influential novelists sharply relishes its female perspective, telling the story in an emotionally powerful way. At the same time, it's also a little too fanciful, over-explaining how Mary Shelley was inspired to write Frankenstein in an over-produced style that oddly belittles her achievement.

In early-1800s London, Mary Godwin (Fanning) grew up in the shadow of her late feminist mother Mary Wollstonecraft. Her philosopher father William (Dillane) encourages her bold thinking, but she clashes with her stepmother (Froggatt). Then at 16 she meets Percy Shelley (Booth), a charming poet whom she can't help but fall for even though he's married. Together with Percy and her stepsister Claire (Powley), Mary travels to Geneva for a fateful summer with Lord Byron (Sturridge) and John Polidori (Hardy), where the seeds are planted for her novel. But life is tough outside respectable society.

There are intriguing threads woven through this story, mainly centred around Mary's fascination with death: the mother she never knew, the daughter who died in infancy. And there's also a philosophical angle in the way Mary is constantly pleading for understanding and compassion from men who are quick to judge and callous in times of need. These themes are all very strong, of course, in Frankenstein. But Jensen's script kind of forces them into the foreground, where they eliminate a more nuanced approach to the creative process.

Fanning has a superb presence as Mary, revealing her blazing intellect and social passion with some nicely complex layers. She's easy to sympathise with, even when she gets a bit prim. But she also adds clever angles to Mary's turbulent relationship with Percy, who is solidly played by Booth. Although there's never much romantic (or lusty) spark between them. Sturridge has a lot of fun in the scene-stealing role, while Powley and Dillane offer unshowy side performances that deepen the emotional connections.

The period detail is beautifully recreated, and there are several inventive fantastical touches along the way. But Jensen's screenplay continually avoids thornier events to make everything feel somewhat obvious and simplistic. The subject matter is edgy enough to remain intriguing, and to highlight the importance of this collision between these two creative forces. In the end, the movie feels so compromised that it makes us want to visit both Mary's iconic novel and her own story, and both of those are definitely worth reading.

cert 12 themes, sexuality 4.Jul.18

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall