Mary Shelley review: For her latest, acclaimed filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour directs Elle Fanning as the eponymous writer that gave creation to the iconic story of Frankenstein.

Mary Shelley review by Awais Irfan.

Mary Shelley review
Mary Shelley review

Mary Godwin (Fanning) is a young writer determined to make her mark in the world, following in the footsteps of her father William Godwin (Stephen Dillane)’s esteem – a well-respected philosopher and novelist. Upon meeting cocksure and dashing poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth), the pair fall immediately in love; when her father forbids their relationship, the pair elope – along with Mary’s little sister, Claire (Bel Powley) – and marry. But their life of love and ease is fleeting with difficulty constantly finding them, all eventually leading Mary Shelley to write the dark tale of Frankenstein.

The life of Shelley is an interesting one; of course, iconic for being such a strong individual in a time where women were looked down upon and notorious for the creation of one of literature’s most famous stories and characters. Mansour’s biopic does a good job in servicing her story with justice; at the core of Shelley is a riveting, nuanced character and a story of hardship, love and finding your own identity. Elle Fanning is remarkable in the titular role, imbuing Shelley with a charm and perseverance that makes her a likable and easy character to root for. Fanning is exceptional and Mary Shelley is a brilliantly complex lead and her story is told with such depth and passion and it’s utterly compelling.

Mary Shelley review
Mary Shelley review

But, beyond this, Mary Shelley isn’t the greatest of films. It’s just so unremarkable. Every side character is one-dimensional and every performer is given so little to mull over and work with; compared to Fanning’s Shelley, they’re all so thin and forgettable. The writing is also fairly contrived and dull; the dialogue is very clunky and the relationships feel so forced. Yes, we invest in Mary Shelley as a character and, yes, this is, essentially, her story. But when everything surrounding her is just so mediocre – at best – then it’s hard for the film as a whole to really shine.

The cinematography is pretty great and the costume and production design work well with it to convincingly and lusciously capture this era and period of the late-1800’s that the film takes place in. Mansour’s direction is slick too; the crafting of the story is great and she does a good job of keeping Shelley tough and formidable despite all the odds thrown against her. It’s a solid film. But it just can’t help but feel underwhelming when only a few aspects reach their potential and the surrounding elements don’t come as together. It really feels like a scattered film that could have been written and directed by several different people. And the Frankenstein portion of the film – easily the most fascinating – is only the final 10/15 minutes. Mary Shelley is by no means a bad film, far from it; this is a competent piece, anchored by a brilliant lead performance and character, but it just falls short on everything else reaching those heights.

Mary Shelley review by Awais Irfan, July 2018.

Mary Shelley was reviewed at the 2018 Edinburgh International Film Festival.

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Mary Shelley