“It’s Alive!” Yes, Dr Frankenstein, the story of how you and your creature came to be, comes almost alive in this Irish/British/Luxembourgian joint production captained by Haifaa al-Mansour.
Mary Godwin (Elle Fanning) has a writer for a father and works in a bookshop, so it’s no surprise that she loves to read and someday she hopes to be a writer. After a trip up to Scotland where she meets poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth), Mary becomes besotted with the man and he too returns those romantic affections. It isn’t long before fractures in their relationship show and these darker moments lead Mary to find her voice and write her story.
Alternatively titled ‘A Storm in the Stars’, this period drama seems to be lost in space at points. It’s a two hour run-time and a good portion of the film feels like a slow crawl. There’s no dazzling spark of a star in the story to be found, it’s almost like the movie is making her hectic late-teenage years feel more mundane than they clearly were. It definitely reached a point where I was internally begging Mary to write the damned story.
Emma Jensen has a good grasp on the poetic language and manages to weave in some nice moments between Mary and her sister Claire but amongst that are a lot of examples that come across with a pretentious tone, which I guess when you have a story featuring English Romantics is to be expected. The script itself isn’t helped further by the actors delivering their lines in a way that’s reminiscent of a stage play, as if they’re projecting their voices up into the rafters which isn’t necessary in cinema. It gives some scenes a distracting hammy quality.
Gladly, ‘Mary Shelley’ the film and the figure herself progress as we enter the stages of the second half. As a Geneva-set ghost story challenge swings into action and Mary’s keen, blossoming interest in science plays on her mind, the film gradually lifts itself out of the dragging mire and lights up a creative bulb within the title character. Haifaa al-Mansour’s previous works that feature strong women help her direct the learning curve of Mary; her troubling years with Percy gift her the experience to work on writing this bold material called ‘Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus’.
Elle Fanning is superb in this, she captures an essence of courage in a girl not quite confident to have her own distinctive voice. Yet, you believe that she’s an intelligent and brave woman and Fanning shows great emotion playing the part of a neglected soul. Douglas Booth utilises his acting chops in a genre he’s well used to by now, that dashing charm works in selling Percy as the sophisticated poet, but there’s an extra something there which he carries and ensures Mary’s beau isn’t a man that can fully be trusted. Joanne Froggatt basically becomes the Lady Tremaine of the act and performs in such a way that wouldn’t be amiss in pantomime. Tom Sturridge revels in his grandeur and mascara as Lord Byron. There’s no denying that the poet is flamboyant and smart but he’s almost a villainous chap too, the misogyny within him is fairly extreme and he has no cares for the feelings or intellect of women.
This film is by no means a terrible one, but the fantastic performance from Fanning isn’t enough to stop me thinking that the real Mary Shelley deserves better than what this story gives.