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Film of the week Monstrous error

MARIA DUARTE sees an entertaining biopic of Frankenstein creator Mary Shelley which plays down her significance as a groundbreaking woman writer

Mary Shelley (12A)
Directed by Haifaa al-Mansour

TWO centuries after Mary Shelley wrote her classic work Frankenstein, regarded as one of the first works of science fiction, there have been umpteen film and stage versions of her complex and unconventional novel and this latest is a deliciously gothic romantic drama.

Shelley, played by Elle Fanning, was a feminist trailblazer who at the age of 16 ran away with the married radical poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth), taking her stepsister Claire Clairmont (Bel Powley) with her and with whom he later became involved.

She started writing Frankenstein when she was just 18 years old during a stay at the mansion of Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge) in Geneva when he challenged his guests to a ghost-story writing competition. But she was forced to publish her work anonymously at first, due to the conventions of the time.

Saudi Arabia's first female director and co-writer Haifaa al-Mansour delivers an exquisitely shot and very detailed period drama within the confines of a borderline cheesy melodramatic gothic romance.

It briefly explores Mary's inspiration for Frankenstein — her monster represented her loneliness and isolation and questioned the reason for his/her existence — which is far more interesting than her long-suffering love affair and marriage to the selfish and self-absorbed Shelley which takes centre stage.

But the film is somewhat redeemed by Fanning's stunning and passionate portrayal of Shelley. She imbues her with a fragile vulnerability yet steely resolve but the problem lies in the fact that there is little chemistry between her and Booth.

Mary Shelley is highly enjoyable but it doesn't really do justice to this extraordinary young woman, who tried to live life on her terms and battled against the sexism of her time in order to find her literary voice and be counted as a published author.

Yet 200 years later she still has not really been awarded the respect and recognition that she deserved. Time's up, guys.
 

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