Headlined by actress Elle Fanning, directed by Saudi Arabian filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour (the female helmer behind the coming-of-age tale Wajdja) and written by Brisbane talent Emma Jensen, Mary Shelley is a suitably female-driven production detailing the origins of its titular subject’s greatest work – Frankenstein.
As horrific as Shelley’s prose are, as well as the film bathing itself in a gothic hue, Mary Shelley is far from a horror picture in any manner. Instead, the focus is on Mary’s relationship with famed poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth), a rather lecherous figure, whose unorthodox views of love paved the way for Mary’s monstrous creation.
Though there’s a sequence that briefly (and I do mean briefly) hints at the terrifying imagery Mary conjured through her words, the film is largely a straight-forward biopic, weaving through the ins and outs of Mary’s tempestuous relationship with Percy, her parents, and her sister (Bel Powley) – the latter of whom travels with Mary and Percy for the majority of their marriage, with the script suggesting she and Percy were trysting behind Mary’s back.
Melodramatic as the film may be, Mary Shelley succeeds predominantly off the talent of Fanning, with the young actress evoking a wise-beyond-her-years temperament that suits Mary’s mentality seamlessly.
Though the film left me wanting more, the decision to scale back on the horror elements may prove wise to particular audiences who seek to find fascination in a strong literary figure without being subjected to the terror she created.
Mary Shelley is in cinemas on Thursday, July 5. Watch the trailer below: