~ NANCY KAUSHIK

Mary Shelley is, in her step-sister Claire Clairmont’s words, a “a perfect encapsulation of what it feels to be abandoned”. This 2017 biopic directed by Haifaa al-Mansour casts Elle Fanning and Douglas Booth in the roles of Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley respectively. In addition to these, the plot introduces renowned literary figures like William Godwin, Lord Byron, John Polidori and S.T. Coleridge.

The movie can be interpreted as the autobiographical streak in the composition of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. It is a deeply personal story, to say the least. Fanning has managed to retain the philosophical spirit of Mary Wollstonecraft while she brings the agility and rebelliousness of her age on the screen when she elopes with Percy. The relationship between the two has been explored in detail, not omitting the sense of abandonment and distance Mary later encounters with Percy.

Besides being a personal narrative of Mary-with Godwin, Percy and her step- sister, it is also the unfolding of the genius behind one of the masterpieces of Literature- Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. The text has been read in the light of multiple interpretations and intertextuality till date.

The movie begins from Mary’s strong infatuation with Percy, who is 21, in a gathering when she, 16, is sent to Scotland. It is almost like a teen romance with captivating eye-locks and hush-hush meetings in the library as Percy arrives at Godwin’s to work as a protégé, except that our charming hero-poet is already married with a child. The overpowering emotion of love and the oppressing state at Mary’s house makes her elope with Percy, taking Claire along. Her experience with motherhood and the loss of her child is enigmatically captured in powerful dialogues and visions sustaining the bereavement. Apart from the Gothic period detail, the dialogues and recitals of Shelley’s poetry at the background weave an almost dream-like transition to scenes which frequently change locations.

Mary’s tempestuous spirits remains the backbone of this biopic when she, being denied the authority of her own work questions,  “Do you dare question a women’s ability to experience loss, death, betrayal ?”. Her bold declaration of spirits in the age she lived is a treat to watch, achieved through the screenplay. However, towards the end one has this bittersweet feeling to know more about the character of Mary Shelley who signs off as “My choice has made me who I am and I regret nothing.”

Call it the intriguing power of this lady or the faltering of the plot that you will be left yearning to learn more. For all, the biopic will be a delightful peek into her times and the tide in Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s mind!

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