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Mary Shelley 2017

Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley

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About Mary Shelley 💬

  • Her Greatest Love Inspired Her Darkest Creation

MARY SHELLEY tells the story of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Elle Fanning) - author of one of the world's most famous Gothic novels 'Frankenstein' - and her fiery, tempestuous relationship with renowned romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth).

  • The Life That Inspired Frankenstein

The pair are two outsiders constrained by polite society but bound together by a natural chemistry and progressive ideas that are beyond the boundaries of their age and time. Mary and Percy declare their love for each other and much to her family's horror they run away together, joined by Mary's half-sister Claire Clairmont (Bel Powley).

  • The Woman Who Created Frankenstein

In the midst of growing tension within their relationship during their stay at Lord Byron's (Tom Sturridge) house at Lake Geneva, the idea of Frankenstein is conceived when a challenge is put to all houseguests to write a ghost story. An incredible character is created, which will loom large in popular culture for centuries to come, but society at the time puts little value in female authors. At the tender age of 18, Mary is forced to challenge these preconceptions, to protect her work and to forge her own identity.


''MARY SHELLEY is the remarkable true story of a woman who railed against the constraints of her society to create a story that would outlive the work of her contemporaries, including her brilliant parents and husband, to influence generations of writers and dreamers with an entirely new genre: science fiction. Her own story feels so strangely familiar because so much of it ended up allegorically in Frankenstein. We all know the basic story, but her journey reveals so many layers and deeper philosophical elements that help explain the work's appeal.''

Haifaa Al-Mansour


Relationships are the foundation of Mary Shelley, providing a framework within which Mary craves out her own identity, pushing back against the expectations of society, the legacy of her parents and the overshadowing prowess of her partner. The various relationships that exist throughout this film - between Mary and her father, Mary and her sister Claire, the relationship between Mary and Percy, Claire and Lord Byron, Lord Byron and Percy, Lord Byron and Polidori, Polidori and Mary and finally the interconnecting relationships between all the main characters Mary, Claire, Percy and Byron, underpin this film.

Claire and Mary

''Claire's relationship with Mary is complicated. I think that perhaps Claire WANTS to be Mary. She is not jealous of her but she tried to emulate her. If Mary gets Shelley - then Claire will get Byron! But I think they love each other unconditionally even though they are half-sisters. She is in awe of Mary but she loves and adores her,'' says Bel Powley of her character Claire.

''They are ying and yang,'' says producer Amy Baer. ''I think in life and the reality of them was that one was a bit more elegant and erudite and educated and the other was more wild and frivolous but together they created a specific energy. Claire is not as formidable as Mary but without a doubt, there is real love between these two half-sisters, they protect one another.''

Mary and Mr. Godwin

''The only parental figure in Mary's life is her father, so when he dismisses all her writing it's like a dagger to her heart. A man who is so respected in his field not believing in his daughter is so hard for her to take. All she wants is recognition from him,'' says Elle Fanning of Mary.

Polidori and Mary

''My character's relationship with Mary is kind of the antithesis of her relationship with Shelley. He is the bad guy, I am the good guy forever in the friend zone!'' says Ben Hardy who plays Polidori.

Mary and Percy

''He is the one for her. With him, she feels that they can take on the world and all that it throws at them, and they will be okay because they have each other. There are times she certainly questions her beliefs. But ultimately, she knows their love, this mad, huge crazy love story, is strong enough to withstand what is thrown at them,'' says Elle Fanning of Mary.

Being with Mary is for Shelley ''A challenge... he challenges her to live this life with him. She was incredibly smart, had this fresh sexuality... she had a cheekiness to her and so he fell in love with this vision,'' believes Douglas Booth.

Lord Byron and Claire

''Their relationship, if indeed you can call it that, is relatively complicated and I think quite unbalanced. Claire's perceptions of it are potentially very different to Byron's,'' says Tom Sturridge.

''Claire is a very determined woman, she doesn't take no for an answer, she knows what she wants and it was Byron and even though it ends badly for her she believes in herself,'' says Bel Powley of Claire's pursuit of Lord Byron.

Shelley and Lord Byron

Douglas comments that in his opinion, ''Shelley looked up to Byron; he was in awe of him. Byron was a star and at the time Shelley really respected him and the way he was and what he stood for.''

Mary, Percy and Claire

''Claire is not the bimbo of the trio; she is not a dumb little sister, she is very smart and she is fighting to make her mark in this trio,'' says Bel of Claire.

''Theirs was an unconventional relationship, they lived as a unit and there was clearly a closeness between all three of them,'' says producer Amy Baer.

  • The Foursome - Cast and Character

Elle Fanning / Mary Shelley

''I felt a huge responsibility playing her - you're creating a character that has so many layers to her,'' says Elle of tackling a portrayal of the author. She also notes the challenges of portraying the arc of Mary's journey transitioning from a young girl into an adult and a creator in her own right, saying ''it's a story of a girl growing up and finding her voice and stepping out of the shadows of her family.'' Discussing the nuances of Mary's character Elle notes, ''she is a free spirit, powerful and very attentive... she picks up on all things... she is curious and very observant.''

In talking about how she prepared for the role of Mary Shelley Elle said ''I read a lot, obviously the first thing I did was to read Frankenstein, I actually still have the copy with me and I dip into it sometimes before I go to bed just to hear a little bit of Mary's voice. It's just so beautifully written.''

Douglas Booth / Percy Shelley

Talking about his familiarity with Percy Shelley prior to the project Douglas admits, ''I didn't really know enough about him at the beginning but when I did research and looked into him and actually read more of his poetry I realized he was an anarchist; he wanted to be a revolutionary.'' Douglas added 'He's much more than just this lover, this romantic poet, he is a flawed character - he has so many traits that are wonderful but there are so many that are just devastating for the people around him.''

In understanding the character, he was about to play Douglas says he read a number of books including Richard Holmes' acclaimed biography Shelley: The Pursuit; ''out of all the information it was the concept of being pursued which came through so strongly - pursuit not only by creditors, his family, Mr. Godwin when he ran away with his daughters, but he was constantly pursued by his demons and his desire to live a life that was so unconventional in those days.''

Tom Sturridge / Lord Byron

''For me, I think Byron is broke and brave, unpredictable and passionate. The character of Byron himself - he is an astonishing historical figure. The first thing I did was read his poetry and his letters, I looked at some biographies to get a sense of the man,'' said Tom. The facial hair Sturridge cultivated for the role he attributes to being inspired by a famous painting of Byron in traditional Albanian dress, painted by Thomas Phillips where he has a mustache.

Bel Powley / Claire

''These women, Claire and Mary, were incredibly forward thinking for their age and their time. It's a very interesting prospect to play a role that's based in the 19th century but it's really modern at the same time; it's like they're in the swinging sixties but it's in the 1800's.''

In terms of how she prepared for the role, Bel says ''there is a lot of material out there to read and luckily there are still loads of Claire's letters available, so you can really get a sense of her through her writing. When you are playing a character that actually existed you want to honor that person and do her justice especially since she was such an amazing woman.''

  • Favorite Scene

For Elle, ''100% it's the scene when I sit down to write Frankenstein... it's a big scene... it's a big one. The prop guys gave me paper and a quill and I have been writing in my handwriting all the excerpts that are going to be filmed.''

''I love all the scenes where there's so much going on and you have a lot to play with'' said Bel.

For director Haifaa it's the scenes between Percy and Mary, ''there are a lot of scenes where they are so passionate; I enjoyed directing those.''

Amy Baer as the producer said it's a scene between Mary and Shelley when first she confronts him about his potential infidelity, ''it's the moment in the story where Mary grows up and Elle's performance is just breathtaking.'' Fellow producer Alan Moloney's favorite scenes are the sequences of Byron’s in Switzerland, ''for me that particular section of the story has always drawn comparisons to that period of time that the Rolling Stones spent in the South of France.''

  • Message

Although the film is a period drama set in the 1800's MARY SHELLEY has a very modern message, as Tom Sturridge says ''it's about the emancipation of a young girl's soul and I think that whatever period you are in you can recognize that desire for freedom.''

Alan Moloney says of MARY SHELLEY, ''it's a coming of age story about a girl who through her own life experience is able to express through her writing how the various conflicts and demons that she has to deal with comes to the fore.'' Amy Baer adds ''it's a coming of age story about a young woman trying to find and own her voice, and I think that's massively universal whether it took place 200 years ago or two weeks ago. And you know Frankenstein is also the precursor to all of science fiction and was written by a woman!''

Director Haifaa Al-Mansour said ''the film is in a period of time of a couple of hundred years ago but I feel you can relate to it now. They were pushing boundaries - take away the costumes and I think there is something in the film that every 18 or 19-year-old will relate to.''


Q: Tell us about the story behind Mary Shelley. How did you get involved in this project?

Haifaa Al-Mansour: The producers sent me the script and I have to admit, I was skeptical at first. I thought her story would feel very foreign to me, as the period and the setting were so far from what I felt comfortable with. But when I read MARY SHELLEY's story, I felt an instant connection with it. She grew up in this very conservative culture, where women's roles were much more rigid and opportunities were extremely limited. But she rose above it and wrote a story that continues to capture the imagination of readers to this day. What I love is that she chose to write a book that was so outside of the ''acceptable'' realms of literature for women, and created a genre (science fiction) that continues to be dominated by male voices. She wrote a book that challenged religious doctrine and raised new ethical questions about the impact of uninhibited scientific experimentation would have on a society.

Q: What, if any, parallels do you see between MARY SHELLEY's story and Wajdja?

Haifaa Al-Mansour: Although they are set in two different times and worlds, Mary's story does have some very interesting parallels to Wadjda's. Both young women were struggling against conservative social structures in order to pursue the lives they wanted to live. They are both women who unapologetically follow their hearts, against the norms and expectations of their societies, without compromise to achieve a personal triumph.

Q: How does MARY SHELLEY set itself apart?

Haifaa Al-Mansour: MARY SHELLEY is the remarkable true story of a woman who railed against the constraints of her society to create a story that would outlive the work of her contemporaries, including her brilliant parents and husband, to influence generations of writers and dreamers with an entirely new genre: science fiction. Her own story feels so strangely familiar because so much of it ended up allegorically in Frankenstein. We all know the basic story, but her journey reveals so many layers and deeper philosophical elements that help explain the work's appeal.

Q: Do you feel things have progressed for women since the time of Mary Shelley? A modern-day example is J.K. Rowling...

Haifaa Al-Mansour: Many of the problems that Mary Shelley faced continue to challenge women today. Philosophically the way in which Mary went after what she wanted in her life, without regard to moral or societal limitations, was extremely shocking to the public in her time. Whereas the same behavior would perhaps be more acceptable for a man, public pressure to be chaste and morally pure is still something that women struggle with today. Sadly, even her struggles to publish her book under her own name show a societal reluctance to embrace works of science, horror, or other traditionally 'masculine' themes from a female writer that continue to this day. Look at a book like ''The Outsiders.'' Sarah Hinton had to abbreviate her name to S.E. Hinton so readers wouldn't know her gender just by looking at the cover. I don't think most people think about it, but it was clearly something her publishers felt (and still feel) is important in selling the book. Whenever women write something outside of the realm of acceptable topics for the gender- romance, cookbooks, children's books, etc.- we see that there is still a long way to go in unrestricting the potential of the female voice in our society.

Q: Why do you think the story of MARY SHELLEY will resonate with modern audiences, and what makes her life so interesting to explore in a biopic?

Haifaa Al-Mansour: I felt a big responsibility to be accurate and honor MARY SHELLEY's legacy in a way that modern audiences could relate to. Her life story is an important aspect of the Frankenstein legacy, and it is a beloved work to so many people for so many different reasons. So I really wanted to focus on aspects of her personal journey that may not be that well known but are key to truly understanding everything that went into her writing. It was a wonderful challenge, and we had an amazing cast and crew that helped bring her story to life in a beautiful, touching story.

Q: In researching for the project did you learn anything which surprised you about MARY SHELLEY's life and work?

Haifaa Al-Mansour: I was surprised by so much of MARY SHELLEY'S life ended up in Frankenstein. I chose to focus on the relationships she had with her parents and her tumultuous relationship with Percy Shelley. All of these influences found a way into the book, and are much clearer in their symbolism when you know everything that she went through. She fought to live an uncompromising life, to emerge from the shadow of her remarkable parents, and experienced incredible loss and sorrow. When I reread Frankenstein again, I was so touched by how much the journey of Frankenstein's monster reflects many of the tragic events of her own life.

Q: How familiar were you with the story of Frankenstein prior to signing on to this project?

Haifaa Al-Mansour: I knew quite a bit about the basic story, and the iconic imagery we all have of the green, neck-bolted monster that has become a cornerstone of modern pop-culture horror stories. I had read the novel in college as well but hadn't ever spent much time studying or thinking about the work. It means so much more to me now.

Q: What is your favorite memory from set?

Haifaa Al-Mansour: There is one epic scene, where Elle is walking to the bookshop down Skinner-street, and it is just such an awe-inspiring set. Everything just came together so well, and it was just beautiful to watch.

Q: What do you hope audiences take away from the film?

Haifaa Al-Mansour: I hope audiences see in Mary a hero they can see themselves in. She is not perfect and makes questionable choices and mistakes throughout her journey. But she does not give in to disappointment or the agony of loss, she just pushes forward. She is an example of someone who takes the weight of misery and transforms it into a personal and profound work of art. It would have been very easy for her to give up at any point along the way, or to defer to her accomplished parents or brilliant husband, but she decided ultimately to find her own voice.

Q: Do you have any favorite films or filmmakers that influence your work?

Haifaa Al-Mansour: I've always loved the way Iranian filmmakers can say so much in their work without being too overt. It is a style that has had a deep impact on me and the way I approach my work. I have so many role models and films I look to for inspiration. I was really inspired by the films of the Dardenne brothers, particularly ''Rosetta.'' That film really made a strong impression on me- both in the seeming simplicity of the story and the emotional intensity of the young protagonist. I also love the Cohen brothers and learned a lot about balancing out serious subjects with humor to deepen a film's emotional impact.

Mary Shelley Movie Details 🎥

Directed by

Haifaa Al-Mansour

Writing Credits

Emma Jensen (Written by)

Haifaa Al-Mansour (Additional writing by)


Elle Fanning

Douglas Booth

Bel Powley

Tom Sturridge

Ben Hardy

Maisie Williams

Joanne Froggatt

Stephen Dillane

Jack Hickey

Ciara Charteris

Music by

Amelia Warner

Cinematography by

David Ungaro

Genres: Biography, Drama, History, Romance, Thriller

Countries: Australia, Ireland, United Kingdom, Luxembourg, United States

Mary Shelley Official Trailer

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