Mary Shelley

Year: 2017
Directed by: Haifaa Al-Mansour
Starring: Elle Fanning, Maisie Williams, Douglas Booth

WRITTEN BY FIONA UNDERHILL

I have something of a love-hate relationship with Frankenstein – having taught it to A Level English students, I got quite fed up of the character of Frankenstein’s overblown, melodramatic moaning, but of course, I loved the character of the creature and had huge sympathy for him. The achievement of its author, Mary Shelley cannot be overstated, however. For an eighteen-year-old girl to have revolutionised literature, invented at least one new genre and to have created characters that still endure to this day is an unbelievable feat for 1818. This film examines the fascinating story behind the author, her family background and her relationship with her husband, Percy Shelley.

I have been a fan of Elle Fanning for some time now and she was in two of my favourite films of 2016;  ‘Neon Demon’ and ‘20th Century Women’. Douglas Booth has certainly carved a niche for himself playing mainly period characters, with variable results. For me, he’s never been as good as he was in Lone Scherfig’s ‘Riot Club’, which got career-best performances out of many of its young cast. Tom Sturridge has also played several mustachioed weasley types in ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ and ‘Journey’s End’. Bel Powley greatly impressed me in both ‘Diary of a Teenage Girl’ and ‘Carrie Pilby’. Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al-Mansour has followed up the ground-breaking ‘Wadjda’ by assembling this group of young actors and casting them well – no mean feat when the icons that are Byron and Shelley are involved.

Mary (Fanning) lives with her father – publisher and book-seller William Godwin (Stephen Dillane), her loathed step-mother Mary Jane Clairmont (Joanne Froggatt) and beloved step-sister Claire (Powley). Mary’s real mother had been Mary Wollstonecraft – a radical feminist writer, who died shortly after giving birth but continues to have a huge influence on her life. After things become fraught in the family home, Mary is sent to Scotland to stay with the Baxter family, including Isabel Baxter (Maisie Williams). It is here that she first meets Shelley (Booth) and the two fall in love. Back in London, it is revealed that Shelley already has a wife and child. Mary, trying to live up to her mother’s ‘free love’ ideals, doesn’t have a problem with this (at least, at first) and runs away with Claire to join Shelley in ‘modest’ lodgings. After tragedy strikes, the three travel to Geneva to stay with Lord Byron (Sturridge) and his doctor John Polidori (Ben Hardy). Trapped indoors by days of relentless rain, they challenge each other to write ghost stories and the rest, as they say, is history…

Fanning does well with the challenges of the accent and her and Booth have good chemistry together. Powley is a delight, as usual, and Sturridge makes a convincing Byron. Al-Mansour’s direction is impressive – there are lots of visual details that stand out – shots of the sky in particular. Mary’s dreams are fully realised and their influence on Frankenstein is clear. The tragedy in Mary’s life clearly informed her writing, as did her wish to honour her mother’s work and lifestyle choices. The three main characters go through several ups and downs in terms of their fortunes – from a virtual hovel, to a plush house in Bloomsbury and back again. Despite Mary being well ahead of her time in terms of feminism, it is clear that she is still beholden to the men in her life (her father, then her husband) for her circumstances and living conditions. When Mary does come to publish Frankenstein, it is assumed that her husband is the author. So, this film is telling the important behind-the-scenes story behind such a seminal landmark in literature.

‘Mary Shelley’ is an effective period drama, with a very good central performance from Fanning, backed up by a well-cast support. It tells a story that we all should know about with an interesting visual style. It is definitely worth a watch on VOD.

FIONA’S RATING:

3-5

 

Reel Women: July UK Releases

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WRITTEN BY ELENA MORGAN

Welcome back to Reel Women, a monthly feature where we highlight the films being released in the UK that are written and/or directed by women. We are now official in the second half of the year (what?! how?!) and there’s still a lot of films made by women to see over the next six months. In July there’s dramas, comedies and more documentaries than you can shake a stick at in the latter half of the month!


6th July

Mary Shelley
Directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour
Written by Emma Jensen and Haifaa Al-Mansour

The story of the love affair between Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth) and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Elle Fanning) and how Mary came to write Frankenstein.

With Wadjda, Haifaa Al-Mansour was the first woman from Saudi Arabia to direct a feature film in Saudi Arabia. Wadjda was nominated for a BAFTA and was widely praised. This is Emma Jensen’s first produced feature screenplay.

The More You Ignore Me
Directed by Keith English
Written by Jo Brand

Teenage Alice (Ella Hunt) lives with her hippy-like dad (Mark Addy) and her mum (Sheridan Smith) who suffers from mental health issues. When her mum is admitted to a local psychiatric hospital, Alice is left with her love f The Smiths as she tries to navigate teenage life without her mum.

Jo Brand is a British comedian, writer and actress. She’s previously written episodes of the TV shows ‘Damned’ and ‘Getting On’ amongst others. This is Brand’s first feature film screenplay, and she adapted it from her own novel of the same name.

In Darkness
Directed by Anthony Byrne
Written by Anthony Byrne and Natalie Dormer

When a bind musician (Natalie Dormer) hears a murder committed in the apartment above her own, she takes a dark path into London’s criminal underworld to find out the truth.

Natalie Dormer is an actress best known for her roles in ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘The Hunger Games’ films. ‘In Darkness’ is her first screenplay and the first film she’s produced.

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13th July

Pin Cushion
Directed by Deborah Haywood
Written by Deborah Haywood

Super close mother and daughter, Lyn (Joanna Scanlan) and Iona (Lily Newmark) are looking forward to a life in a new town but things aren’t as easy as they thought and they both retreat into fantasies of their own making.

Deborah Haywood has previously written and directed five short films. Pin Cushion is a feature film debut and it was nominated for the Douglas Hickox Award at the British Independent Film Awards last year.

Summer 1993
Directed by Carla Simón
Written by Carla Simón

After her mother dies, six-year-old Frida (Laia Artigas) is sent to the countryside to live with her uncle’s family but she finds it difficult to settle into her new life.

Carla Simón has previously written and directed a couple of short films. Summer 1993 is her first feature film.

The Butterfly Tree
Directed by Priscilla Cameron
Written by Priscilla Cameron

Ex-burlesque queen Evelyn (Melissa George) enchants both single dad Al and his teenage son Fin (Ed Oxenbould) with her thirst for life. But tensions rise between the father and son when they realise they are both competing for the affections of the same woman.

Priscilla Cameron has written and directed three short films and The Butterfly Tree was nominated for Best Original Screenplay in at the 2017 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards.

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20th July

Generation Wealth
Directed by Lauren Greenfield
Written by Lauren Greenfield

A documentary investigating the pathologies that has created the riches society the world has ever seen.

Lauren Greenfield is a director, writer and producer who was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for her documentary Thin.

Madame
Directed by Amanda Sthers
Written by Amanda Sthers

When she realises their dinner party is for thirteen guests, Anne (Toni Collette) panics because it’s bad luck and enlists her maid Maria (Rossy de Palma) to pretend to be one of her rich guests. But sparks fly between Maria and art broker David (Michael Smiley) and this unexpected romance leads to Anne chasing the pair around Paris as she plots to ruin their happiness.

Madame is the second film Amanda Sthers has directed after previously writing films for TV.

One or Two Questions
Directed by Kristina Konrad
Written by Kristina Konrad

A documentary about Uruguay’s 1989 amnesty referendum, a vote to determine whether members of the police and military accused of crimes during the country’s 12 years of junta rule could be prosecuted after they were granted impunity three years before.

Kristina Konrad is a documentary filmmaker who has directed four feature-length documentaries and produced over a dozen films.

Extinction
Directed by Salomé Lamas
Written by Salomé Lamas

An essay film on the fluidity of national identity in times of conflict.

Salomé Lamas is a Portuguese writer and director of short films and feature-length documentaries.

The Receptionist
Directed by Jenny Lu
Written by Jenny Lu and Yi-Wen Yeh

Based on a real illegal massage parlour in London, The Receptionist follows the lives of the employees and clients as seen through the graduate who’s employed as the receptionist.

This is Jenny Lu’s first feature film and is Yi-Wen Yeh’s first screenplay. Lu and Yeh have previously worked together on the short film The Man Who Walked on the Moon.

27th July

The Bleeding Edge
Directed by Kirby Dick
Written by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering

A Netflix documentary on the unforeseen consequences of rushing through advanced technological devices to be used in the medical field.

Amy Ziering has worked with Kirby Dick on four documentary films, and their film The Invisible War as nominated for an Oscar in 2013.

That’s twelve films made by women being released in the UK in July including one on Netflix. We would love to hear your thoughts on any of these films if you get the chance to see them, though you’ll have to be quick as a lot of these films have a very limited release.