The thin line between reality and fiction is a tough one to follow
Managing to reduce the life and times of legendary British novelist Mary Shelley to a boring, sluggish and meaningless biopic is one thing; But doing it with a strong performance from Elle Fanning at its helm is something else entirely. Mary Shelley is the definitive guide on how to miss an incredible opportunity.
Still young of age, Mary Wollstonecraft (Elle Fanning) is sent to Scotland to live with her family’s friends, where she meets a young poet, Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth). Embodied by love, Shelley follows Mary back to her home, where he offers to work under her father, the novelist William Godwin (Stephen Dillane). Their partnership however, is forbidden, and all notion of love must be kept secret, away from potential ruin.
The film’s focus is placed into entirely the wrong places, suggesting blaming the poor final product entirely on the shoulders of director Haifaa Al-Mansour would be a harsh way of distributing the blame. The initial drafting of the script clearly didn’t go through rigorous enough scrutiny to understand that Shelley is known, almost solely, for her novel Frankenstein. A book that features only in the film’s final moments, bringing along with it the longest build up to an anti-climax, of potentially, all time. Granted some of the film looks at the reasons Shelley veered towards writing Frankenstein, but those only come in the film’s second half. It seems like an idea that worked theoretically, but certainly not in practice.
Mary Shelley’s saving grace is its enthusiastic cast, something often difficult to find in period dramas, but the content they need to really connect with the story simply isn’t there. The characters, especially Mary, aren’t given enough time to adapt, and simply come off as shells of how they should seem. The performances are enjoyable and somewhat progressive, but the limits are clear to see, putting up barriers against expression and finding the real interest in Mary’s story.
Perhaps, bogged down by a hampering for accuracy, Mary Shelley is a prototype let loose too early. A little more refinement and artistic licence will have gone a long way to help Al-Mansour shape a biopic around Shelley, rather than letting her life shape her film. The thin line between reality and fiction is a tough one to follow, but sometimes, when its characters real life counterparts were dying over 160 years ago, the fiction needs to take over just a bit more to give out a truly impressive feature.
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