- I'm a sucker for anything English
- I'm partial to a costume drama
- I enjoy biopics
- I'm a poet
- I'm fairly well read in the greater scheme of things.
So Mary Shelly, a film about the author of Frankenstein, daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and the wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley was going to be a must see for a nerd like me, even if her mother's tome drove me batty in The History of Political Thought way back in my undergrad days.
I then looked up the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes - where it's not been well received - and I do get why. However, I was rather taken with this film, which looks at the life of this very courageous woman who was born out of her time.
Mary Godwin (Elle Fanning) is the daughter of two unconventional writers. Her mother died within days of her being born, her father remarried a harridan and life was pretty miserable for the young Mary. She is sent to Scotland on her father's request to sort herself out, where she meets the equally unconventional Mr Shelley - poet, scholar and something of an inconsiderate rake. The film looks at their thoroughly modern relationship which caused scandal at the time. It touches on the couple's relationship with Lord Byron, the loss of their daughter and the inspiration behind the novel "Frankenstein".
Elle Fanning owns the screen and the courageous Mary. Douglas Booth is appealing, yet a little bland as Shelley, the man-child who entices her away from her family unit. Other stand out performances come from Tom Sturridge as a wonderfully rambunctious Lord Byron and Bel Powley, who play's Mary's step-sister, Claire. The latter is under the dire threat of being typecast as the dippy sister - but she does it so well.
Haifaa Al_Mansour's direction is assured, albeit a little slow in places. I put some of this down to the time period and subject matter, which is deeper than many would think.
Just as Frankenstein is an allegory for loneliness and oppression, Mary Shelly is an unflinching look at what is was to be a woman in the early 19th Century, a time when women had next to no rights and a well defined place. Mary Shelley chose to buck many of these norms. The other aspect of life which was viewed with a steady eye was mortality and childbirth. Where we are lucky that few women die in childbirth and our infant mortality rates are among the lowest in the developed world, people were not as lucky two hundred years ago. Losing a child, and a parent, shapes the film.
This is not a perfect film, but it certainly doesn't deserve a bad rap. It casts a steady eye at an extraordinary life. If you do see this, do a bit of reading around the subject beforehand.
I found this a worthwhile way to spend a rainy afternoon.