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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 05.24.18] United Kingdom drama biography

Frankenstein first appeared on film in James Whale's 1931 pre-code horror movie Frankenstein which marks an important step in the character's pop culture staying power but the character had been buzzed about for over a century, essentially from the moment Mary Shelley's novel first appeared in 1818.

Over the years, the story of Frankenstein has taken on many varied film incarnations and occasionally there has been mention of the woman behind the monster but in Mary Shelley, we have the first real attempt to delve into the life of the writer, to mixed results.

Co-written by Emma Jensen and Haifaa Al-Mansour and directed by Al-Mansour (the celebrated Saudi director credited with being the first woman from Saudi Arabia to direct a feature film), Mary Shelley stars Elle Fanning as Mary and tracks the would-be author from her early years as the friend, and later lover and wife, of poet Percy Shelley. In the process of telling Mary's story, we also get some insight into the bohemian life of Shelley and his friend Lord Byron as the group of friends travels Europe taking in the sights of the times before landing in Switzerland where the famous competition to write the horror story that resulted in "Frankenstein" unfolded.

Mary Shelley does a fine job of framing the novel in the life and relationship of the Shelleys by stitching together the ups and downs of the romance between Mary and Percy and how the turbulent early years of their relationship shaped the themes of the novel "Frankenstein."

Fanning is wonderful as Mary, bringing a naivete early on which dissipates as Mary navigates the hurtles which are constantly put in her way; hurtles which are mostly put there by the people around her. There's her stepsister Claire Clairmont (Bel Powley) who follows Mary across Europe where she gets herself pregnant and abandoned by Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge), a loud and flamboyant successful poet who had little time for women beyond sex. And then there's Percy (Douglas Booth) who is too wrapped up in himself to realize the pain he's inflicting on his lover.

Though it features some beautiful production design and great performances, particularly from Fanning and Booth, the movie feels long-winded in places and a bit bland overall mostly because too much time is spent harping on the combative relationship between the Shelleys.

Even so, Mary Shelley is a fascinating look at the struggles of a writer in the early 19th century and specifically the struggles of a woman writing at a time when female authors were still a minority.

Mary Shelley opens in NY and LA on May 25 and will be available On Demand on June 1, 2018.

Recommended Release: Frankenstein

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