Directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour (Wadjda) and starring Elle Fanning (The Beguiled; 20th Century Women), Mary Shelley depicts the author as a fiercely modern 19th-century woman, and her Frankenstein as the product of unbridled imagination and profound grief. Daughter of political philosophers William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, who died giving birth to her, Mary (Fanning) is a bookish adolescent of humble means when she meets Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth, The Riot Club; Romeo & Juliet). Though only 21, he is already a celebrated young poet — and a shameless womanizer with one collapsing marriage already under his belt. Defying her beloved but disapproving father, Mary absconds with Shelley — her stepsister, Claire (Bel Powley, A Royal Night Out), in tow. Mary seeks “unconventional approaches to living,” and finds it in spades with her debt-ridden bon vivant scribe, who desires neither monogamy nor the constraints of fatherly responsibility. Yet Percy believes in Mary, and two years into their union he whisks her away to a Swiss chateau for a summer of carefree living presided over by Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge, On the Road; Far from the Madding Crowd), where Mary will confront personal demons and compose the most influential horror novel of all time.
As Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker, Al-Mansour is as much a pioneer as her heroine. She renders Mary Shelley as a sumptuous and intoxicating proto-feminist tale of fearless self-actualization and fiery creativity.
“Mary Shelley is a luscious-looking spectacle, drenched in the colors and visceral sensations of nature, the sensuality of young lovers, the passionate disappointment of loss and betrayal. But above all it is a film about ideas that breaks out of the well-worn mold of period drama (partly, anyway) by reaching deeply into the mind of the extraordinary woman who wrote the Gothic evergreen Frankenstein.
– Deborah Young,
The Hollywood Reporter