Directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour
Starring Elle Fanning, Tom Sturridge, Bel Powley, Douglas Booth
Playing at Quad Cinema
The best scenes in “Mary Shelley,” a biopic of the Frankenstein creator, revolve around the moments of inspiration that led to her creation of the legendary monster.
There’s a sense of awe as Mary (Elle Fanning) watches a science demonstration, for example, with its bolts of static energy serving as an obvious but effective metaphor for the creative awakening occurring within.
It’s similarly thrilling to consider the degree to which this extraordinary author thumbed her nose at early 19th century convention in a real, lasting way — and filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour achieves several stark emotional moments to that end, as Mary proudly and defiantly pursues her taboo professional and personal passions.
Despite these best efforts, and those of Fanning (who is incapable of giving a performance with anything less than total conviction), the movie misses the mark when it comes to the most essential and relevant parts of this story.
It is focused, instead, on the tempestuous romance of Mary and the married poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth), and the host of emotional complications that come with it, culminating in a summer spent with Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge).
The film attempts to connect this experience to the creation of Frankenstein in a fundamental fashion that simply never resonates. It’s undercut by the hazy, magical realist aesthetic, the general insufferable nature of the men and the fact that a work that strives to be a serious, feminist piece too often feels like gothic romantic fiction.