MARY SHELLEY Review – A Lifeless Look at the Creator of Frankenstein’s Monster

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MARY SHELLEY Review by Staci Layne Wilson

Mary Shelley ReviewMary Shelley was a fearless, lusty and imaginative female by the standards of any era. In 1812 she ran away from home at the age of fifteen to fall into the arms and bed of her married lover – the pair lived in squalor in a London flat but they were rich in ideas, love, and writing talent. They were both drawn to the forbidden. At the time, it was scandalous for a man to comport himself in such a way – but for a woman it was shameful to say the least. That Mary wrote her Frankenstein novel as a teenager and the mother of a dead baby (which is what inspired her) is a stunning achievement.

Sadly, the film Mary Shelley trains its focus on the least-interesting minutia of the story, spending far too much time on her early home life. While it’s rated PG-13, it feels more like a bland TV movie from decades ago. When Mary (Elle Fanning) and Percy (Douglas Booth) kiss, it’s as if the spirit of Will H. Hays is there leeching out any hint of desire. The loss of Mary and Percy’s infant daughter is shown in paint-by-numbers beats of grief, and when Mary writes her seminal novel it’s presented with all the emotion of a woman jotting down her grocery list.

To say the film is miscast is putting it nicely. Booth gets a pass, as does Bel Powley as Mary’s impetuous half-sister, Claire. Fanning is a listless ice-princess (which served her well in The Neon Demon), while the other most-colorful character in the tale, Lord Byron, is played with effete emptiness by Tom Sturridge.

I’m amazed that a story of such corporeal passion and artistic fire could feel so sterile. The producers hired women to make Mary Shelley – director Haifaa al-Mansour and scribe Emma Jenson and I understand that female filmmakers are all trendy now, and that’s a good thing for the most part. But the trick is hiring the right women. Al-Mansour and Jenson either didn’t have a clue what they were doing, or they were hobbled by the studio.

If you want to know more about the creation of the most famous zombie of all time, check out Ken Russell’s Gothic (1986) instead. While it is far from perfect, with Natasha Richardson as Mary, Julian Sands as Shelley, and Gabriel Byrne as Byron – plus a whole lot of opium, sex, death and horror – it’s a lot more fun.

Rated PG-13

2 hours, 1 minute

If, after reading this Mary Shelley review, you still want to see it, you can get times and tickets at

MARY SHELLEY Review by Staci Layne Wilson

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Staci Layne Wilson

Staci Layne Wilson

Staci Layne Wilson is an accomplished writer / director / producer / film critic and the author the bestseller So L.A. - A Hollywood Memoir. Find her on

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