It’s been said that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein kicked off our modern fascination with human monsters. It certainly is a dark book full of foreboding imagery and themes but these have been captured and probably distorted by filmic depictions.
What might not be quite so well known is that the author of the book was just a teenager when she wrote it, and she had already given birth to a baby daughter who subsequently died in infancy. That back story is probably enough to nurture the dark side of Shelley’s imagination, but the film Mary Shelley attempts to show other things that influenced the author.
The film explores her fascination with the growing interest in science and technology and in particular the discovery of the effects of electricity on the nervous system. It also looks at the deep loneliness and heartache at the centre of her life – the loss of her mother when Shelley was just a month old.
Mary’s parents were certainly ahead of their time. Her father William Godwin was a political philosopher and her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a philosopher and feminist who helped propel women’s rights into public consciousness.
It was these influences and I suspect, her mother’s unconventional life, that lead Shelley to look at the world a little differently.
The film itself is sumptuous. The sets are moody and lit by candles and even outdoor scenes are subdued and predominantly misty.
Elle Fanning does such a good job portraying a young English maiden that it is hard to believe she is actually American. Her Mary Shelley is wide eyed, rebellious but so relatable.
Douglas Booth as Percy Shelley is perhaps not quite as convincing. He has an awkward handsomeness that would suit a vampire character in the Twilight films and it certainly fitted in with Mary Shelley’s gothic pretensions, yet somehow I didn’t sense the role sat comfortably with Booth.
Joanne Froggatt plays a bitch in this film and she does it in such a convincing manner I suspect she may well have a strong career ahead playing less wholesome characters than we’ve seen in the past.
Mary Shelley is a good film but as expected it gives a broad sweep of history and uses little vignettes to try and give a sense of the real person who was Mary Shelley. It is worth watching, but I bet after you’ve seen it, you’ll start googling all about these people.
In cinemas 5th July 2018
Starring: Elle Fanning, Douglas Booth, Bel Powley, Ben Hardy, Tom Surridge, Maisie Williams, Stephan Dillane, Joanne Froggatt
Directed by: Haifaa al-Mansour