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Review: Mary Shelley

A very typical, but enjoyable, historical biopic

At age sixteen, Mary (Elle Fanning) meets the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth). Inspired by his rebellious ways and stifled by her dull home-life, she runs away with him, despite knowing he is already married. Thus begins the torrid romance of a young bohemian couple, marred by the power and entitlement of sexist men, but culminating in the completion of Mary’s classic novel, Frankenstein.

Haifaa al-Mansour, best known for 2012’s Wadjda, is skilled a creating atmosphere — the lush Scottish countryside, the foggy London streets, and the alternately posh and dilapidated homes the struggling authors inhabit, are all photographed beautifully, as are the gorgeous shots of scenery and starry skies.

But beyond Mary Shelley‘s visual strength, it is overly regular in narrative. The usual story of placing romance above all else in the life of an author is nothing new, while steamier scenes feel exceptionally typical of historical romance pictures. Haifaa al-Mansour, however, wishes mostly to examine the gender dynamics of Mary Shelley’s literary context. Bringing every element together at the film’s climax with the writing and publication of Frankenstein, it is in the final moments that misogyny becomes palpable. Too intent on the historical romance genre, which, by all means, it does fairly well, Mary Shelley misses its own point when trying to be something more interesting. A passable love story, it is never the deep probing of patriarchy it wants to be.

Chelsea Phillips-Carr

Chelsea Phillips-Carr is a freelance writer from Toronto. She has an MA in cinema studies.