Mary Shelley, written by Emma Jensen and Haifaa al-Mansour, directed by the latter
After seeing so many, indeed, the overwhelming majority of biopics with males in the leading roles, it is a welcome change to watch a good film- not unique, but there are few about women- that has Mary Shelley at the center.
The young wondrous author is played by the talented Elle Fanning, who appears at time to be a little awkward and this could be for the best, for it might be the skill of the artist and if it is young age or inexperience it might still add to the impression that this was an extraordinary, precocious genius.
Mary Shelley was born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, daughter of a respected philosopher- who would eventually help establish her as an author of…her own work- and a woman that was not married.
Indeed, at the stage where the protagonist wants to travel, move away with the famous, dominant, somewhat insensitive in spite of his romantic stranding, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, the father opposes and he has to be reminded of his own beliefs and the fact that he had had Mary out of wedlock.
Other important characters in this narrative are Isabel Baxter, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Harriet Shelley, Claire Clairmont and…Lord Byron
Before the age of eighteen, the heroine has an uneasy relationship with her step mother and the conflict is at times on the verge of physical violence, as the overbearing older woman tries to impose her will on the rebellious young Mary, at one moment both pulling at the same time, the controlling personage falls to the ground.
The apparition of Percy Bysshe Shelley changes everything and he becomes the overwhelming influence on her life, with an initial positive presence, bringing love and happiness, but eventually behaving like the creator from Frankenstein.
When the young woman tells her father that she would like to move from his house, which is anyway in debt and where the consort is creating permanent trouble, he rejects this and is angry with both daughter and the guest in the household, the acclaimed poet.
The latter points out that he had paid for instruction, indeed, while William Goldwin has financial constraints and he is frequently unable to face his creditors, the young Shelley has resources from his father, up to the point where the parent decides to withdraw his backing.
This would happen under the most severe circumstances, after the poet will have travelled with his lover and her friend Claire Clairmont, a baby girl will have been born and they would struggle to pay their debts, and eventually stop doing that
One night, as the creditors come at the door to take all there is- for Shelley had continued to use his parent’s name to guarantee for loans- the poet is rushing home and he hurries the two women, telling his partner that they need to abandon all, at that very moment.
Mary Goldwin Wollstonecraft would not get out of the house, for it is pouring rain outside and their baby daughter is very ill and the doctor had advised caution and maximum protection.
Forced as they are, they flee the creditors and the harsh weather takes its toll and kills the baby.
Lord Byron enters the stage, but the impression of the man is not excellent and for that matter, Shelley himself does not present an admirable figure, reminding one of the wonderful work Intellectuals by Paul Johnson, which describes the lives of Tolstoy, Rousseau, Ibsen, Hemingway and others, revealing that geniuses have often been abominable men.
Percy Bysshe Shelley had already been married when he has started dating the young Mary, having abandoned to some extent his child and furthermore, when other men showed an interest in his companion, one even abusing her, the poet would encourage her to be free and become intimate with other men.
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin states that she wants him, he loves the poet and not others, but his overbearing manner is obnoxious, notwithstanding the ultimate effect that it would have that of inspiring the classic Frankenstein.
Lord Byron has an affair with Claire Clairmont – played by the very gifted Bel Powley, remarkable in a few other films- and when they are all invited to Switzerland as guests of the other famous romantic, Byron kisses Shelley on the mouth and acts in an outré, rather unpleasant manner.
Clair Clairmont has a child with Byron, thinking that this will bring them closer; indeed, she even brags in front of her friend Mary-, “you were wrong to think you are the only one who is attractive to a poet”.
Lord Byron rejects any further relationship when the young Claire talks about the child and makes clear that, although he would provide for the baby, there is nothing else that would bond the two adults.
Meanwhile, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin writes Frankenstein, Shelley offers to write the introduction, but the woman unde4rstands very well that this would make others think that he is the author and many would entertain this fabulation, including the editor where she tries to publish.
Finally, the poet might do the right thing, at least concerning the classic and by now acclaimed story, but it is the father who undertakes the publishing of the novel indicating their real author and not the one suggested by the “fake news”.
Excellent feature about a superior, singular, determined, talented, creative, brave, pioneering, admirable woman, in an age that belonged to men, almost exclusively.