Aida Vucic | 07/06/2018
A perfectly timed film for a year which has seen the social discrepancy between men and women as a significant talking point.
Mary Shelley follows the story of Mary Godwin (Ellie Fanning), the daughter of Claire and William Godwin. Both esteemed writers and equally progressive thinkers, they detested the formalities imposed on them by societal norms. However, Mary’s mother died shortly after giving birth and Mary was raised by her father and stepmother in a more traditional family. Mary is eager to follow her mother’s footsteps and to publish works of great meaning, but has seemingly yet to find her voice. A chance meeting with the handsome Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth) turns Mary’s attention towards matters of the heart, as the pair are instantly infatuated with one another. Devastatingly, it would seem that Shelley’s affections are not exclusive to Mary, and the film recounts the pairs ups and downs in the lead up to the fruition of Mary’s masterpiece that is Frankenstein.
Whilst the film features much of the English provincial touches that we’re accustomed to seeing from adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights and more, the story’s non-fictional underpinnings give it a provocative feel. Dealing with issues that seem relevant even this many years in the future, it’s masterfully told to ensure that no character is misrepresented. Each story is perfectly linked and each relationship rich in lust and longing. While it’s Mary’s story, those around her are provided enough breadth to explore their own idiosyncrasies, yet still maintain the mystery between each unique relationship.
The story never attests to knowing everything; which is a rarity. Rather, it simply alludes to possibilities. The film may have benefited from the exploration of those feminist ideals in the first and third act of the film, but for the most part they are sidelined for middle, meaty part of the film, as it slowly mirrors many of the ‘inspiration finding’ elements we’ve seen on screen before.
The performances are rich with pathos, most evidently from Fanning who really is the beating heart of the film; guiding it through each tribulation with strength and grace. The role doesn’t differ much from her work in The Beloved, and it seems that Fanning has been type casted as the breathless pale ghost, who yearns for the warmth of a man’s touch. It’s only in the final third that Fanning truly gets the chance to focus on the novel itself, and it’s here that the film picks up.
Similarly, her co-star Booth seems to have been pigeonholed as the devilishly handsome, Austenian love interest with a propensity for mischief. Their performances, whilst largely faultless, do not oblige the same admiration as those from Bel Powley and Tom Sturridge, due to the fact that we have seen Booth and Fanning deliver these roles before. Powley and Sturridge, however, are both magnificent in their slightly lesser roles; particularly Sturridge, who chews the scenery with every look, glance and hand gesture.
Mary Shelley is the safe version of what could have been a powerful film. It’s a film that could have evoked the female spirit, yet is encumbered by its focus on the romance between Shelley and Mary. While there are certainly elements of misrepresentation of women’s existence being necessitated by the approval of a man, the film still provides some joyous relief from the tedium of modern cinema by upending the otherwise typical English provincial film through its exploration of non-traditional romance