Tag Archives: Mary Shelley

Making the Monster

A Nightmare Wakes

by Hope Madden

It’s hard not to be fascinated by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, who, at 18, wrote arguably the most iconic piece of Gothic horror or science fiction—or both in one—ever to be penned.

Writer/director Nora Unkel takes us back to that rainy summer night when young Mary, her lover Percy Shelley (Guillian Yao Gioiello) and his friend Lord Byron (Philippe Bowgen, over the top) participated in a challenge to write a ghost story.

We all remember what Mary came up with, right?

Alix Wilton Regan plays the young scribe. It’s an adequate performance in a fairly lifeless film that suggests writing and madness go hand in hand but plays it safe when it comes to what really haunts Mary.

As Mary Shelley suffers through indignities at the hands of a lover she believed to be a better man than he is, she escapes through writing. Aside from one particularly difficult scene, though, Percy’s behavior is largely sanitized or quarantined to offscreen antics we can only guess at.

Wilton Regan offers a needy heroine more likely to lash out at her sister (who may or may not deserve it, Unkel never really clarifies) than to stand up for herself. The performance might have delivered an intriguing central figure—unlikeable and almost impossible to root for.

It seems like a conscious creative decision between Unkel and Wilton Regan, given some of Mary’s behaviors. Creating an unlikeable female to anchor a film is an endlessly intriguing, brave and chancy decision, but the film you hang around her has to turn her performance into something worthy of the attention. Unkel can’t manage it.

Still, Mary descends into a kind of madness and soon enough, her creation takes on a life of its own.

Unkel is not the first filmmaker to conflate the writer’s life with the writer’s product. Just a few years back, Haiffa Al-Mansour’s biopic Mary Shelley convincingly drew Frankenstein as a near autobiography. That film didn’t quite deliver on its promise, either.

In Al-Mansour’s case, hero worship led to a superficial character (played soundly by Elle Fanning) with few faults and a lot of frowning. Unkel’s version is close to the opposite, but both filmmakers set out to depict what it was Mary Shelley was really trying to say when she wrote Frankenstein.

It’s a laudable goal. The problem may just be that Mary Shelley said it so much better.

I Don’t Want to Go Out—Week of August 27

It’s like an end-of-summer fire sale this week. So many movies! All available to watch from the couch in unwashed yoga pants and Alf tee shirts. I mean, that’s how we imagine you watching these, but really, wear whatever you want. The important thing is to let us help you decide where to spend your valuable time.

Click the movie titles for the full review.


American Animals


A Kid Like Jake

Book Club

Mary Shelley

Men and Monsters

Mary Shelley

by Hope Madden

Mary Shelley was a fascinating person. She was the offspring of a radical feminist, sure. Still, what fire it must have taken to abandon societal pressures at the time in favor of a scandalous relationship with the married Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Of course, she was 16 and 16-year-olds make poor decisions.

Mary famously went on to outdo both her poet/philosopher husband and his poet/lover Lord Byron when, during a rainy spell in their summer together, they took part in a challenge to write a ghost story.

What then, did Byron or Percy Shelley write? Who can recall? But we do remember Mary’s.

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin penned Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus when she was 18 years old.

Such a life story would seem like fertile ground for a stirring biopic.

We’ll have to settle for Haiffa Al-Monsour’s stiff and middling effort, Mary Shelley.

Elle Fanning portrays Mary, a melancholy rebel who has yet to find her literary inspiration or her voice. She does become muse to Shelley (Douglas Booth), a handsome scoundrel more opportunistic than idealistic.

The film hopes to encapsulate the abandonment, longing and loneliness that fueled the creation of Mary Shelley’s novel, and more directly, her creature. But there is no life in these scenes—none of the gumption that must have fueled Mary’s early decisions.

Fanning’s listless performance casts an awfully prim shadow. She’s surrounded by perfectly reasonable if somewhat anemic turns by her supporting cast. All this subdued hush only makes Tom Sturridge’s bluster that much more, easily stealing scenes as the lothario, Byron.

Al-Monsour seems unsure of her intent. She struggles to illustrate the power struggle between male and female inside this free-loving environment. But more than anything, she fails to find any kind of spark or passion to propel her central character or her film.