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Last week, I reviewed Jane and the Year Without a Summer, a novel about Jane Austen’s time at Cheltenham Spa in 1816.
As I confessed last week, I only know a little about Jane Austen’s biography. I knew even less about Mary Shelley’s life. The film Mary Shelley (2017) filled in quite a few gaps.
Mary never knew her famous mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). The film begins with Mary as a teenager living with her father, William Godwin and his second wife. Their apartment is attached to her father’s bookstore.
Mary and her stepsister run away from home to live with Mary’s lover, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Poverty and creditors plague them, a situation that Mary blames for the loss of her first child.
When the opportunity arises, the three of them travel to Geneva to visit Lord Byron. This is the Year Without a Summer that I learned about from a Doctor Who episode and wrote about last week. With rain for days on end, Lord Byron proposes a contest to see who can write the most thrilling ghost story.
What I enjoyed most about the film were the glimpses into what might have influenced the story of Frankenstein. Displays and newspaper articles about galvanism, stormy nights, and Byron’s challenge all contributed. Various experiences of rejection that Mary experienced or witnessed gave her the sympathy to imagine the misunderstood monster.
Elle Fanning is one of our favorite actors and she was convincing as Mary Shelley in her conflicting traits of innocent and adventurous, radical and practical, insecure and talented.
Tom Sturridge as Lord Byron was deliciously smug and careless, a perfect model for Dr. Frankenstein.
The cinematography captured the moods and darkness that was a feature of the Year Without a Summer and suited the creation of Frankenstein’s monster.
This would be the perfect film to schedule for your Halloween viewing, especially if (like me) you don’t particularly like scary movies but do like the early 19th century setting and stories about writers.
Have you seen Mary Shelley? What did you think?