Mary Shelley

Filed in Film by on July 5, 2018 0 Comments

As the acclaimed author of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (1797-1851) was the first science fiction novelist. Her transition from cloistered young woman to acclaimed writer is the subject of Haifaa Al Mansour’s appealing feature film, Mary Shelley, which opens in Canada on July 13.

Mary Shelley, 1840

A period piece in terms of atmosphere and language, this evocative movie focuses on a five-year span of her life up to 1818, when her path-breaking book was published. Elle Fanning plays Mary with aplomb.

The daughter of William Godwin, a journalist and political philosopher, and Mary Wollstonecraft, a feminist, Mary was raised by her father, home schooled and taught to appreciate good writing. So it was hardly surprising that Mary began to write herself. Her stepmother, however, did not take kindly to her penchant for words and chastised her for “scribbling away like a child.”

Elle Fanning as Mary Shelley

Recognizing her talent, as well as her dysfunctional relationship with his second wife, Mary’s father sent her away to friends in Scotland to find her own voice. At the age of 16, she met the man who would have a profound and lasting influence on her — Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth), the 21-year-old Romantic poet who was fast making a name for himself in literary circles.

Being rebels, they were irresistably drawn to each other. But when she found out he was married with a child, she severed her relations with Shelley. He won her back and the love-struck couple moved in together, causing a scandal in polite society. Mary allowed her half-sister, Claire, to join them.

Douglas Booth and Elle Fanning

Shelley, portrayed in stellar fashion by Booth, is seen as a free spirit who lives beyond his paltry means by recklessly borrowing money against his father’s estate. Being far ahead of his times, he believes in open marriage and has an affair with Claire. When Mary protests, he tries to mollify her. “There is no one else for me,” he says soothingly.

Mary gives birth to her first child, but tragedy intervenes. It has a deep effect on her outlook.

Mary and Shelley are invited by another up-and-coming British poet, Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge), to spend time at his estate in Switzerland. Claire is already pregnant with Lord Byron’s child, but his attitude toward her is contemptuous. Sturridge is excellent as a vain and foppish libertine.

Tom Sturridge as Lord Byron

During her stay at his house, Mary writes Frankenstein. Shelley is impressed by the manuscript, but thinks it should carry a message of hope and perfection. She begs to differ, leaving it intact as a dark and gruesome Gothic novel.

The first publisher who reads it doesn’t believe that a person as young could produce a novel of such originality and depth. She submits the book to additional publishers, but they reject it. Finally, a publishing house agrees to publish it anonymously with a foreword by Shelley. Subsequently, her father publishes it under her name.

The film ends on an upbeat note as Mary’s career takes flight.

 

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