This was a most unexpected pleasure - assisted, I'm sure, by my having had low expectations. It was about 20 mins into the film when it struck me that despite my misgivings (including an unknown - at least to me - cast) it could be really good. And so it turned out to be. What underlines its remarkable quality is that the director is the first female film-maker of Saudi Arabia, making her first film in English - one Haifaa Al-Mansour.
I knew a little about the person (played by Elle Fanning) , essentially being the young woman author of 'Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus' - in literature, one might say, a 'one-hit-wonder' but nevertheless unfairly eclipsed by her precociously talented husband (eventually), Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth).
We first meet her at the age of 16, living with her free-thinking father (Stephen Dillane), her step-mother (her own mother having died a few days after giving birth to Mary) and her step-sister, Claire (Bel Powley).
On meeting by chance the poet Percy Shelley, the two rapidly fall for each other, she not knowing then that he is already married with a 5-year old daughter, his having deserted both mother and child. She finds out but reluctantly stays by him. However when her father discovers it he forbids her to see Shelley any more. She is determined not to obey and flees her home with her adventure-minded step-sister in tow. Both Mary and Percy live for a while in un-wedded bliss though, once pregnant, Percy's attention starts being diverted towards Claire, leaving Mary very uncomfortable. When she voices her concern she's told that her companion believes in 'free-love' though she herself can only cope with an exclusive relationship. Then they bump into Lord Byron, obnoxious, heavy drinking, and a 'cad' in every sense of the word - once he's satisfied his appetite on any particular woman he casts her off and goes to the next one, there being a seemingly endless line of female admirers. Shelley himself is only a little less dismissive of women. Byron invites them to join him in Switzerland, which they do.
I was afraid that the film might duck any mention of Shelley's famed irreligion, but it doesn't, including one scene which might be considered sacriligeous. Much is made of his belief in 'love' without attachments.
The film takes the story up to the publication of 'Frankenstein' with Mary's struggle to get her name acknowledged as the author. In the first published edition her name had been omitted and it was assumed that Percy S., who'd written an introduction, had been the creator.
I know that many will probably disagree with me but I really could have done without the final scene which gives a rather too neat rounding-off of the tale. I might have preferred having the ending covered by post-film captions (which do, in any case, tell of the couple's eventual marriage, Percy S.'s tragic early death and Mary's own continued story.) But this is an insignificant point in the context of the film's whole.
I found it a strong film, generally dark in mood but very watchable. Unlike most reviews which I've seen this film gets my own personal certain recommendation................7.
(IMDb.............6.3 / Rotten Tomatoes............5.4 )
1 hour ago