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Elle Fanning plays the titular character in Mary Shelley.

Ricardo Vaz Palma/Courtesy of HanWay Films

  • Mary Shelley
  • Directed by: Haifaa al-Mansour
  • Written by: Emma Jensen and Haifaa Al-Mansour
  • Starring: Elle Fanning and Maisie Williams
  • Classification: PG
  • 120 minutes

rating

One of the most impressive accomplishments in literary history is the fact that Mary Shelley (played here by Elle Fanning) was still a teenager – a teenager! – when she began writing the novel that would become Frankenstein, and was barely out of her teens when it was (anonymously) published in 1818. In her uneven English-language debut, celebrated Saudi Arabian filmmaker Haifaa al-Mansour – who knows a thing or two about being told you can’t do something because of your gender – explores the events that led to the creation of one of literature’s most famous monsters. Films about writers (and pretty much all artists) are tough to pull off: How do you capture the inner workings of a creative mind – the spark, the process, the result – in a way that doesn’t come across as cliché or, worse, false? In the case of al-Mansour, the actual writing takes a back seat to what informed the writing – Mary’s guilt stemming from the death of her mother, the writer and pioneering feminist Mary Wollstonecraft; conflict with her stepmother and father (Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt and Game of Thrones’s Stephen Dillane); and, most of all, her turbulent relationship with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, another precocious talent. The film is somewhat amusing – especially Tom Sturridge, who turns Lord Byron into poetry’s version of Jack Sparrow – but immediately forgettable.

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