The second of two Elle Fanning movies coming out this week has her starring as Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin in Mary Shelley. She plays the author as she’s on the cusp of writing her best known work, Frankenstein, something society at the time isn’t ready to fully accept came from a female writer.
Not only that but she’s involved in a tumultuous love affair with the poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth). Her experience with that romance as well as her fascination with the world around her and her determination to make an impression on the world drive her to do something different and memorable with her life, much to the chagrin of her lover, parents and others.
The movie is billed here as “The life that inspired Frankenstein,” making the parallels between the personal and the literary part of the audience’s expectations for the movie. A close up of half of Fanning’s face is the only graphic element here, though the entire thing is doused in a drab, brownish-grey color palette that lends a somber Victorian air to the brand.
Immediately the trailer establishes Mary as someone filled with ambition but stifled by the expectations and norms of the society she lives in. She meets Percy, her future husband, and the two begin a romance while she’s only 16. The relationship isn’t a hit with her friends and family. Her imagination is sparked when she sees a demonstration claiming the dead can be returned to life. Cut to her at the fateful meeting with other writers where each is challenged to write a ghost story and while those around her love it, some question whether she is indeed the author.
What comes through clearly here is how Mary’s life of struggle with love and the rigors of society all informed the book she’s most famous for. At every turn the trailer draws a connection between her personal life and the work of fiction she creates. Fanning looks wonderful as the title character, infusing her with deep sadness and an iron will.
Online and Social
There’s just a single page of basic information that IFC Films created for the movie at the same time it provided a bit of support on social channels.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Nope, nothing here.
Media and Publicity
A first-look still provided an early glimpse at Fanning as the title character. The movie was announced as one of those that would screen at the Toronto International Film Festival, a screening that resulted in relatively positive buzz and word-of-mouth. While there the star and director talked about how they wanted to reclaim the story for Shelley after it’s become so associated over the years with male stars, directors and others involved in various adaptations.
The movie was eventually picked up for distribution by IFC. Later on it kept going on the festival circuit, including a stop at the Tribeca Film Festival. While there weren’t any (apparent) corporate ties that facilitated it, an installment of Nat Geo’s “Genius” series focused on Shelley seemed timed to ride the wave of conversation about the author and had the side benefit of also contributing to awareness of that resurgence.
Fanning and the rest of the cast admitted that they didn’t know much about the author before they started filming, opening their eyes to just how radical and innovative she was.
It’s a nice, moody campaign IFC put together here but it’s not going to amount to much, I don’t think. There have been a number of these gothic-tinged movies about female writers struggling to overcome the norms of the society they’re shackled to recently but none have caught any fire. Fanning is about the strongest draw in the whole thing.
That being said, it’s good that these stories keep being told and weren’t completely shut down by the entire industry just because one didn’t connect with audiences. It’s still important that more people here and see he story behind the story and learn how independent, unconventional women have been breaking societal boundaries for a long, long time now.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.