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She will forever be remembered as the writer who gave the world Frankenstein. But the real life story of Mary Shelley-and the creation of her immortal monster-is nearly as fantastical as her fiction. Raised by a renowned philosopher father (Stephen Dillane) in 18th-century London, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Elle Fanning) is a teenage dreamer determined to make her mark on the world when she meets the dashing and brilliant poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth). So begins a torrid, bohemian love affair marked by both passion and personal tragedy that will transform Mary and fuel the writing of her Gothic masterwork. Imbued with the imaginative spirit of its heroine, Mary Shelley brings to life the world of a trailblazing woman who defied convention and channeled her innermost demons into a legend for the ages.
A Gloomy Look at the Greats of Romantic Literature.
First off, Elle Fanning totally shows she has the goods as a leading actress. Her portrayal of a rather hardened and humorless Mary Shelley was the glue that held this picture together. What made the movie sort of an endurance test is the writing. It's so trying to shove down your throat some sort of message on feminism that it totally lacks in any wit or humor. I mean these are some of the most celebrated authors in Western Literature. The way this thing is written both Shelley and Lord Byron are total self-centered boors who have very little clever to say and mostly exist to piss Mary off and further galvanize her will.
If you've ever seen the lurid, over indulgent, over the top and brilliant 'Gothic' by Ken Russel you've seen what can be done with the subject matter. By comparison the Shelley's stay with Byron in this movie is as exciting as getting stuck for a month with your Drunk Uncle and his Group of Louts. There is no sense of poetry being in the air. No sense of the wonder of creation a few well crafted verses can create. There's no sense of how a love of literature forged the relationship and stoked the passion of Mary and Percy's love affair.
Instead what we get is a victory claimed in the name of feminism because Mary Shelley is more well known than either her husband and Lord Byron. But if the fruits of victory is that we have to be subjected to a grim and gloomy interpretation of Shelley's life rather than a celebration of it, what's the point?
The Shelley's lived an incredible life, though on the verge of poverty most of the time they always seemed to be able to travel extensively and they rejoiced in the world around them. Mary was a well known travel writer. They seemed to love the romantic notion of their bohemian lifestyle. You get none of that sense of wonder from this movie.
Given all that 'Mary Shelley' is still a movie worth watching. The acting is all very solid and it's a well done production. A little less dogma and gloom and a little more celebration of verse would have really lifted this picture. For a glimpse at a rising star who will soon be in Jennifer Lawrence territory as a leading lady it is definitely a picture you should see.
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