TIFF 2017 Review: “Mary Shelley”
Mary Shelley is a film that tells the story of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin’s life before penning her famed novel Frankenstein. Mary (Elle Fanning) lives in London with her father (Stephen Dillane), step-mother (Joanne Froggatt) and step-sister Claire (Bel Powley). One day, she and her stepmother have a fight and her father, a famous writer in his right, sends Mary to Scotland to stay with a friend and find her voice in her writing. Once in Scotland, she meets Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth) and falls in love. Called back to London by her sister’s illness, she must leave her newfound love. Upon returning home, she learns her sister’s illness was just a ploy to get her to return.
Not expecting it, Mary is surprised to learn that Percy followed her home and wanted to study with and learn from her father. Their relationship progresses until one day Mary is confronted by Percy’s wife. Unaware that she even existed, Mary is shocked and rejects Percy’s advances. He finally wears her down, and she agrees to live with him. Because of his marriage, it is a massive scandal, and they leave without the support of her father. Claire begs Mary to come with her, and she agrees. As the three begin their lives together, they will face many challenges, changes, and loss. All these things combined will inspire Mary to pen Frankenstein.
The visuals in the film are unique. The use of darker more gothic images set a particular scene. The result is an atmosphere that is undoubtedly the perfect setting for Frankenstein’s monsters to be born. Elle Fanning as Mary is great. She embodied all the rage and loneliness that Mary felt. Douglas Booth as Percy is surprisingly emotional and his line delivery is perfect with the sometimes complicated poetic text. The dialogue is beautifully written and incorporates dramatic poetry and develops the characters and paints a vivid picture of Mary’s life and emotions. The good thing about poets is they will always tell you how they feel so we always knew what they were thinking.
There is some disconnect between the audience and the film. The emotional moments don’t hit as hard and don’t have the impact that one would want. I suppose it is from the beginning of the story being overly bloated. It takes far too long to get to the crux of what we all are there for; the creation of Frankenstein. We do get little bits of it along the way, but it struggles to maintain the attention of audience among a litany of dense poetic language and heavy dialogue. The combination of that and the transitions make the film feel very long.
Overall, Mary Shelley is intriguing, and a treat for any fan of hers or the poets featured in the film. Despite some flaws, the film is still an enjoyable watch if you know what to expect. Mary Shelley gives the background story of the creation of an iconic monster that will live on even if the story of Mary Shelley does not.