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Mary Shelley

By Tiffany Tchobanian | April 17, 2018

The tragic tale of Frankenstein’s Monster is greatly known. There have been several adaptations of the creature’s misunderstood torment over the years. Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Mary Shelley offers a refreshing and relatable take on how the monster mirrors Mary’s (and her similar peers’) struggle. After learning the hardships she endured, we understand what inspired this classic and haunting story of creation, love, betrayal, and heartbreak.

The film offers a romanticized, dark, and racy depiction of Percy Shelley and Mary’s scandalous love affair. Elle Fanning and Douglas Booth capture the combustible chemistry Percy and Mary must’ve shared to become historical figures of gothic romance. Their powerful attraction to one another is undeniable. When Mary is given an ultimatum, she leaves her wicked stepmother (Joanne Froggatt) and disapproving father (Stephen Dillane) for an uncertain and bohemian life with Percy.

What makes this romantic drama endearing is the fact that this story is not only about two lovers. Mary refuses to leave her beloved step-sister, Claire Clairmont (Bel Powley), behind. Claire tags along for the wild ride as the third wheel. However, the trio’s relationship is sweet rather than awkward.

“…given an ultimatum, she leaves her wicked stepmother and father for an uncertain and bohemian life with Percy.”


In fact, Claire is the one who leads the couple into Lord Byron’s (Tom Sturridge) orbit. Sturridge entertainingly depicts the iconic poet as a tawdry rock star complete with guyliner, groupies, furs, booze and a wicked tongue. Like Percy, he leaves a string of scorned lovers and friends in his wake.

One of them is the kind-hearted physician-turned-writer, John Polidori (charismatically portrayed by Ben Hardy). He finds a welcomed confidant in Mary and they often turn to each other for support in the midst of Percy and Byron’s debauchery.

Mary Shelley, both the film and person, are at their best when she fulfills her destiny and passionately pens her claim to fame. We experience the same frustration she felt when publishers denied her capability, accused her of plagiarizing Percy, and force her to rely on her husband’s namesake to allow her word to see the light of day.   

Mary Shelley (2017) Directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour. Written by Emma Jensen, Haifaa Al-Mansour. Starring Elle Fanning, Bel Powley, Maisie Williams, Douglas Booth, Joanne Froggatt, Stephen Dillane, Tom Sturridge, Ben Hardy.

4 out of 5 stars

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  1. Graham Henderson says:

    Contrary to what this trailer review would have you believe, Haifaa al-Mansour’s Mary Shelley is a hot mess. For those anticipating a nuanced, balanced and careful study of the relationship between two of the world’s authentic literary geniuses, Mary and Percy Shelley, I am sorry, you will be disappointed. For all of its pretensions, this movie seems to be little more than a sort of thinking person’s Twilight or maybe Beauty and the Beast: two hot, beautiful young people with perfect skin and hair are thrust together by chance, torn apart by circumstance only to be at last happily reunited. It is riddled with factual errors and the plot involves an almost complete rewrite of history. Percy and Mary, as depicted in Mary Shelley, are essentially props whose lives have been casually rearranged to allow al-Mansour and her screenwriter to concoct a myth about the creation of Frankenstein. Were the movie to carry a warning, “based on a true story”, it would not go far enough. Mary and Percy have been done a disservice. The true story of Mary, Percy and Frankenstein deserves to be told – but it will await yet another day.

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