Mary Shelley

The torrid true-life tale of how a passionate love affair fueled the creation of trailblazing writer Mary Shelley's Gothic masterwork, Frankenstein. Elle Fanning stars.
Haifaa Al-Mansour
Elle FanningMaisie WilliamsBel Powley
English [CC]
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Supporting actors
Douglas BoothJoanne FroggattStephen DillaneOwen Richards
Amy BaerAlan MoloneyRuth Coady
IFC Films
PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned)
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Foul languagesexual contentviolence
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4.4 out of 5 stars

1211 global ratings

  1. 68% of reviews have 5 stars
  2. 16% of reviews have 4 stars
  3. 10% of reviews have 3 stars
  4. 3% of reviews have 2 stars
  5. 3% of reviews have 1 stars
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Top reviews from the United States

JB SteelReviewed in the United States on August 3, 2018
3.0 out of 5 stars
Elle Fanning Shines in a Movie That Gets Bogged Down in Mood and Message
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This movie is pretty good but it could've been better. First off, Elle Fanning is now an A list leading lady and carries the film. She has a grace and elegance playing the (as depicted) 'long suffering' wife of Percy Shelley. The casting was good and the mood was mostly good. The problem I had was they made one of most storied love affairs in history about as tedious as my first marriage. Yes, the Shelley's lived on the verge of poverty but they were also their day's equivalent to Rock Stars. They were welcome at the homes of nobility all over Europe. They traveled so extensively, Mary wrote a travel book about their adventures. And yes, the fought but they also loved each other with an all consuming passion. Also Byron and the Shelley's most famous night together, when both Frankenstein and the Vampire in literature, which would eventually evolve into Dracula, was born is lackluster in the extreme. The Shelley's entire stay with Byron is as exciting as a summer with your least favorite, loutish Uncle. These people loved life. They got high off of words. They believed the time the were living in was full of wonder with more to come right over the horizon. You get none of that sense of joy from this movie.

There seems to be a concerted effort to make some sort of feminist statement here, at the expense of the men in Mary's life. I don't think she would agree with that portrayal. Mary Shelley was as close to a free spirit in the 60s and 70s sexual revolution mode as that time could support. She wasn't perpetually exasperated as this film would lead you to believe. Nor was she oblivious to what was going on between Percy and her cousin. There is plenty of speculation on the Shelley's very modern interpretation of marriage if you care to research it.

This movie's portrayal of these people suffers in comparison with Ken Russell's lurid, over the top and incredibly entertaining, 'Gothic'. While they didn't have to go as far as Russell, this movie would've been better leaning a bit in that direction. This is not a fault of the actors who were all very good. It is the fault of the writers and director. The writers should've loved the words more and their 'message' a bit less.

As for Elle Fanning, she is magnificent. She has emerged as fully forged STAR in this one. I've loved her work in everything I've seen her in and I'm glad she is getting to chance to shine. They just should've wrote a script that would've allowed her to smile more and display Mary Shelley's incredible wit, charm, voice and love for life.
90 people found this helpful
M.A. KleenReviewed in the United States on October 28, 2018
3.0 out of 5 stars
The ‘Sturm und Drang’ that Inspired Frankenstein
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The early life of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of the Gothic novel Frankenstein, is recounted in Mary Shelley (2018) a period drama/romance written by Emma Jensen and directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour. It was originally titled The Storm in Our Stars, and focuses mainly on the relationship between Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and how their relationship inspired Frankenstein—the story of a mad doctor who reanimated a corpse using electricity. It left me wishing someone had shot a jolt of electricity into this sullen and mediocre film.

The year is 1814. Sixteen-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft-Godwin (Elle Fanning) lives in London with her father, writer and book seller William Godwin (Stephen Dillane), her stepmother, Mary Jane Clairmont (Joanne Froggatt), and stepsister, Claire Clairmont (Bel Powley). Mary greatly admires her birth mother, early feminist theorist Mary Wollstonecraft, who died when she was a baby. Her rebellious streak sets her at odds with her more conventional stepmother, and her father sends her away to Scotland.

In Scotland, Mary meets 21-year-old poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth), who follows her back to London under the pretense of becoming her father’s student. The two fall in love, but things get complicated when Percy’s wife Harriet (Ciara Charteris) shows up with their young son. Bucking social convention, Mary, Percy, and Claire run away together and face financial hardship and the death of their first child.

Meanwhile, Claire attracts the attention of Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge) and becomes pregnant. Together with John Polidori (Ben Hardy), they spend a few tumultuous weeks together in Geneva, where Byron challenges them to a ghost story writing contest. This inspires Mary to begin writing Frankenstein. After becoming estranged over Percy’s deplorable personality, the two reunite in her father’s bookshop and live happily ever after.

Historically, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851) was the daughter of radical political philosophers William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. She met Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley as a teen and they married in 1816 after Percy’s first wife, Harriet, committed suicide. Mary Shelley is mostly known for writing the Gothic novel Frankenstein (1818), which was published when she was twenty years old. Percy died in a boating accident in 1822 and Mary returned to England with their fourth and only surviving child. She went on to publish several other novels, in addition to promoting her late husband’s work.

Mary Shelley plays freely with the facts. For example, although Percy did abandon his first wife to tour France and Switzerland with Mary and Claire, he did not shun their children as depicted in the film. The movie portrays Thomas Hogg as a rapist who tried to force himself on Mary—in reality they were close friends. Neither Mary and Percy’s marriage nor the birth of their second and third child, all of which occurred before Frankenstein was published, are depicted in the film. But none of these inaccuracies are too distracting, especially if you know nothing about Mary Shelley’s complicated personal life.

The main problem with Mary Shelley is not its historical inaccuracy, but its lack of creativity, energy, or spark. The couple’s romance meanders its way through the trials and tribulations of a conventional period love story with a predictable ending. The only really interesting scene was when Percy, Mary, and Claire attend the Phantasmagoria and meet Lord Byron for the first time, and where Mary sees a man animate frog legs using electricity. At last, there is a hint of inspiration and color in an otherwise dreary world.

Mary Shelley grossed under $2 million internationally at the box office and failed to connect with audiences and critics. It currently has a 40 percent favorability rating from critics and 47 percent audience score on RottenTomatoes. Filmmakers have been mining the romantic world of Gothic fiction since the inception of cinema, but unfortunately the lives of the authors who wrote it translate less compellingly on screen.
26 people found this helpful
EvanS.Reviewed in the United States on July 30, 2018
5.0 out of 5 stars
Great for Shelley fans, women studies fans, sci-fi fans and even that sullen teenager wandering around your house.
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I loved it. Three really great perspectives. The birth of science-fiction, the place of women in society in the 1700's and the rise and fall of the romanticism era. If you really want to learn and feel how science fiction writing began, this is the movie you want. When you learn about the personal tragedies that ignited Mary Shelley's deep desire to bring a human back to life, Frankenstein's Monster becomes so very clear. I've been a long-time Mary Shelley and Percy Byshe Shelley fan. This film puts the good, the bad and the sometimes tragic elements of romanticism right up where you can see them. If you have an overly "romantic" teen, who could benefit from learning the natural consequences of the romanticism era, this is a movie they might want to see. It might save you a lot of parenting. Ha, ha!! It's certainly important that those passions come to the surface and give some direction, but they are not without their consequences.
21 people found this helpful
VReviewed in the United States on August 18, 2019
3.0 out of 5 stars
Good actors; overall a disservice to Mary & Percy’s relationship
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I only just now watched this movie, and ... wow. So many of the errors just didn’t have a point. Why did Ianthe have to be five years old—rather than one, as in real life—when Shelley met Mary? Why did the movie have Harriet drown at Battersea rather than Hyde Park? Also, why couldn’t Shelley have been shown taking laudanum rather than drinking? Finally, getting the age of Allegra wrong at the end was just jaw-dropping. No one could be bothered to spend 30 seconds on the Internet to fact check that? Not to mention the false impression it gave of Byron—yes, he “provided” for the child until her death, but he also ripped her away from her loving mother & stuffed her in a convent, then refused to tell Claire where her child was buried after she died.

I do think the movie hit on some uncomfortable truths; Shelley did behave irresponsibly at times (convincing young girls to run away with him without considering the impact it would have on their lives, abandoning & disparaging Harriet & buying things that he never paid for with seemingly no regard of the impact on the vendors, for example). But he also saved Mary’s life thru quick action & keeping a level head when she was bleeding after a miscarriage. And he never left her, as the movie states.

In this movie Shelley is a caricature; little more than a manipulative cad. Seeing Mary slam down her manuscript in front of him as if to shove it in his face—“I did this, on my own, without YOU you stupid man!” (my paraphrase)—was just nonsensical and upsetting, when we know what a mutually respectful collaborative working relationship they had.

As a rule, I’m not against making fictional movies about real people, but the characters have to be written in a way that is true to their real-life counterparts. Otherwise, it’s unfair to both the people portrayed and to the viewers.

With this cast & the apparent film budget, this could have been such a great movie. What a shame it is not.

I recommend this book for people interested in learning more about Mary Shelley and her amazing mother: Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon. Also recommended is Death & the Maidens: Fanny Wollstonecraft and the Shelley Circle—here you’ll learn about the sister of Mary that this film left out.
8 people found this helpful
ThunderbirdReviewed in the United States on September 15, 2018
5.0 out of 5 stars
Mary Shelley is still, to this day, one of my role models.
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Not normally a huge fan of Elle Fanning, but after watching this I had to reassess my opinion. She completely won me over in her portrayal of one of my all time favorite role models. I read Frankenstein a few years ago and it absolutely blew me away. That a 17/18 year old girl wrote this piece of genius fiction is... I seriously have no words! I think they did a great job with the movie. At times I narrowed my eyes, thinking that maybe Mary was being portrayed as too much of a pushover, but by the end they tied the movie up beautifully and with satisfying closure. And the parallels drawn between her lover, Percy, and the poor monster she breathed life into was so expertly done. And that Percy identified himself in the moster actually sort of broke my heart and redeemed him finally.
At first I had foolishly mistaken Mary's kindness for weakness. I was so wrong. It takes a very strong and independant woman to forgive and to transcend the restrictive expectations and ideologies that defined her era. Mary was pure class and grace. She followed her heart and loved unconditionally. She was first and foremost true to herself. She was and still is an exemplary femanist.
4 people found this helpful
Glenn RichardsReviewed in the United States on December 12, 2019
1.0 out of 5 stars
A complete misrepresentation
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This film begins as a biopic of writer Mary Shelley (1797-1851), but degenerates into a shrill, sanctimonious diatribe that misrepresents her. The film argues that the famous novel Frankenstein is about the pain of abandonment, and that Mary was victimized by her philandering husband. In fact, Frankenstein is a much more powerful work because of the way it integrates ominous images and philosophical themes. The idea for Frankenstein occurred to Mary when she and poet Percy Shelley, whom she later married, were visiting Lord Byron in Switzerland in 1816. Although some of the images came in dreams, the plot was loosely based on the Greek myth of Prometheus. Percy Shelley encouraged her work, contributing text and editing. As the film acknowledges at the end, Percy made sure that Mary received credit for the novel, while they remained married until his death. Mary was not the lonely victim portrayed in the film. She was a strong-willed, independent person who achieved fame that outlasted her lifetime.
2 people found this helpful
Lisa HuntReviewed in the United States on February 24, 2020
5.0 out of 5 stars
This will make you question everything you know about Frankenstein!
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Wow, this was amazing!! I loved every minute of this entangled love affair and passionate life adventure!! It really showed how hard life was in those days and how far we truly have come in our society where once upon a time, a woman couldn't even be thought smart enough to come up with such beautiful stories!! It shows the bravery and intricate weavings of the mind which give birth to such tales of wonderment and mystery!! I was captivated by the heart Mary had and the courage to never give up but to use her wounds and pain to create something Beautiful, that is a true author! We all have our own loss and abandonment and heartache, but to be able to weave a story and give voice to the human monster within each of us, that's mastery & that's the makings of a true author! Elle Fanning stole the screen with such Perfection and made a perfect Mary Shelley!! Watch this and fall in love with a true masterpiece!! I did.
JulieReviewed in the United States on June 10, 2018
5.0 out of 5 stars
I recommend this movie
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For those who think that our preceding ancestors are innocent and pure, think again. I can see by Mary Shelly’s life, how she could turn her experiences into a monster. Watch with an open mind
4 people found this helpful
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