Is This the Real Mary Shelley?


I’ve been updating the Upcoming Movies list recently, and I came across the movie formerly known as A Storm in the Stars, described as “The love affair between poet Percy Shelley and 18 years old Mary Wollstonecraft, which resulted in Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein.” Now the flick is titled, simply, Mary Shelley. It’s in post-production with no premiere date aside from the nebulous “2017.”

However, we have a couple of promo photos with Elle Fanning as the titular heroine (plus I scrounged some behind-the-scenes pix), and as Frock Flicks resident literary geek, I have issues. Not so much with the actress — she hasn’t been in enough period films for me to judge how well she’ll do as the author of Frankenstein. Though I guess she’s the right age, given that Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was 17 when ran away with Percy Bysshe Shelley and Fanning is about 19 herself.

I’m concerned about the costumes and styling. Of course, I am, that’s what we’re here for. Let’s look…

Mary Shelley (2017), Elle Fanning

Promo shot of Elle Fanning as Mary, resting on her mother’s tomb.

Mary Shelley (2017), Elle Fanning, behind the scenes

Filming on location in Dublin, Ireland, in 2016. What is up with the ribbon running stitch thing at the neckline of that blouse?

Mary Shelley (2017), Elle Fanning, behind the scenes

Behind the scenes shot of Elle Fanning in, um, costume as Mary Shelley. Where do we start? The loose hair and braid? How about that sweater? The whole look is like Regency grunge.

Admittedly, we don’t have any extant portraits of Mary Shelley as a young woman. The most well-known image of her is from later in life, long after her husband had died.

Portrait of Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell, 1840.

Portrait of Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell, 1840.

But we do know what other young English women of the 1810s looked like, including Shelley’s step-sister Claire Clairmont, who, as Lord Byron’s lover, was present on the fateful Lake Geneva trip that inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein.

Portrait of Claire Clairmont by Amelia Curran, 1819

Portrait of Claire Clairmont by Amelia Curran, 1819.

Note the curls neatly piled on top of her head and how she’s dressed like, oh, most every other Englishwoman of the period. Just because  Claire was something of a wild child and proponent of free love according to her letters with both Byron and Shelley, that didn’t mean she wore crazy stuff — that’s such a modern trope. Also compare with similar women of the era. Writers looked just like everyone else.

Portrait of Jane Fraser by Sir Henry Raeburn, 1816

Portrait of Jane Anne Catharine Fraser of Reelig by Sir Henry Raeburn, 1816. Mary Godwin spent time in Scotland right before she met Shelley.

Portrait of the Irish novelist & poet Lady Sydney Morgan by Rene Theodore Berthon, 1818.

Portrait of the Irish novelist & poet Lady Sydney Morgan by Rene Theodore Berthon, 1818. More formal, but similar social station.

While we’re here, I’ll complain about Percy Shelley too. He’s played by Douglas Booth, best known for his part as Mr. Bingley in Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (2016), although he does have a fair number of legit historical costume movies and TV shows to his credit.

Mary Shelley (2017), Elle Fanning & Douglas Booth

Forget you’re seeing this photo on — couldn’t this be from *any* romantic-tragic-drama movie, say, in fall or winter? Not just a historical one? AMIRITE???

Still, we don’t have a video, and nothing much to say about the acting. I’m just going to be dubious about the looks, because I don’t see “romantic poet” here as much as I see “generic 21st-century guy.” It’s probably the hair, which needs to be a bit longer and lighter (Mary’s should be darker; I’d swap the colors on those two).

Portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley by Amelia Curran, 1819

Portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley by Amelia Curran, 1819


Mary Shelley (2017), Elle Fanning & Douglas Booth, behind the scenes

Another behind-the-scenes photo with Elle Fanning & Douglas Booth. The costumes look better here, I guess.

Sure, this Mary Shelley could still be a great movie telling a fantastic story. I don’t know. But man, I wish the first promo pix weren’t leaning towards the romantic cliche and showed a touch more historical realism. We’ve already had Gothic (1986), Haunted Summer (1988), and Rowing With the Wind (1988) that all did the same overblown romantic / gothic / tragic take on Lake Geneva with Mary and Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and Claire Clairmont. Maybe changing the title indicates the film is broader in scope than just Mary Shelley’s romantic life. We can only hope, because the images aren’t hinting at it … yet.


Are you looking forward to this new Mary Shelley biopic?

31 Responses

    • hsc

      I read somewhere– either Lanchester’s autobiography, or a book that dealt with Universal horror films of the 30’s, possibly one of David Skal’s books– that Universal featured this gown in the promotions for the film, talking up how it was elaborately hand-beaded by a team of craftswomen, and even sending it on tour.

      And then the Hayes Office cut shots of it in the film itself because it showed too much of Elsa’s boobs.

  1. Susan Pola

    The whole look seems wrong to me. Young ladies of quality put their hair up when they entered society. Also slouching by Ms Fanning would have gotten her whacked by her governess.
    Wrong posture, wrong hair on both men and women and clothes that jar. Is that a Hair garland I espy? Yuck.

    Hmm. Probably will see just to see how it will turn out. Ms Fanning was okay in Effie. Posture and hair wise (Pre-Rafs loved flowing hair). And she wore it up when she was supposed to.

    • Erica

      Wrong sister. That was Dakota in Effie not Elle. But they’re both talented so I think it’ll work out.

  2. Sarah Faltesek

    I saw the shot of her in the graveyard a few weeks ago and thought “Wait…blond? WTF?!” The only portrait I’ve ever seen was of a dark-haired woman. I mean, I would have been skeptical anyhow, from the costumes and hairstyles, but the fact that she was blond really bothered me for some reason.
    I am a massive Shelley fan, and had a knee-jerk reaction along the lines of “Don’t turn my gothic, science fiction inventing, brunette literary icon into a blond waif for men to emo fight over!”
    Am I being too nitpicky? Are there more historical images of her that makes hair color more mutable?

    • Susan Pola

      I suppose Hayley Atwell was taken? Or another British Hayley Atwell type?
      Jessica Brown-Findley comes to mind.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      I’m trying to not be TOO snarky about the hair color, but these photos are making me twitchy overall. Free-flowing hair, sketchy costumes, I’m just getting a bad vibe…

  3. Adam Lid

    Not impressed- the wardrobe looks frumpy and untidy. And the usual actress with long flowing hair because doing a period hairstyle is too much work and looks so “icky”…

    • Statuesque seamstress

      I mean, you can almost see the puckering along the top-stitching around the pockets and fly. Not to mention the horrendous grain alignment along the side seams. Someone of Shelley’s social position would have had his entire wardrobe tailored by an atelier that employed a team of professional cutters who had already completed their tailoring apprenticeships.

  4. Susan Pola

    And the women aren’t wearing a corset. There were Regency corsets.
    Why is everyone slouching? Posture was drilled into the children of the landed gentry and English Middle Class (lawyers and unlanded gentry) Looking at the people/actors in photos they SCREAM 21st century.
    And I agree Douglas looks to be wearing 20th century slacks. Almost denim like.
    Why do costume designers inflict this trash on us?

  5. Susan Pola

    Maybe, but if so, I may bypass it in the theaters and wait for the DVD (to snark at screen, throw popcorn, etc.)

    • Trystan L. Bass

      True confessions: I don’t watch anything in the theaters if I can. At least partly bec. I get migraines from watching on a big screen. So yeah, streaming / cable / PBS, bring it to my couch pls!

      • Susan Pola

        Sorry about the migraines. For me it’s the too loud volume. I only go if the movie is on the lines of LOTR or Hunger Games or A Noble Country.

        • MoHub

          I agree. I’d much rather watch movies at home, where I can control the volume.

  6. Lynne Connolly

    All that floppy hair. No, just stop it, people. And his hair is so, so 21st century. And would a gentleman stuff his hands in his pockets like that? Nope.

    • Joanne Renaud

      That reminds me how in Berkeley Square, once Leslie Howard’s 1930s character goes back in time to the 1780s, he slouches in his new frock coat and breeches and puts his hands in his pockets as a joke. They’re all time travelers!

      • hsc

        The photo was labeled “behind-the-scenes,” so maybe he doesn’t actually do this on film. Not planning to watch to find out, though.

  7. Susan Pola

    On a completely different subject, are the military uniforms in Mercy Street from Civil War re-enactors? They seem, to my ignorant military eye, spot on. Also please review season 2 of show.

  8. Liz

    My first thought at the Mary in the graveyard image was “Why is that poor girl wearing a potato sack?”

    Also, the badly knitted sweater-spencer?

    And…anyone on set got an iron? Anyone? Bueller?

  9. Susan Pola

    And I suppose the ‘Great Bobby Pin/Kirby Clip Shortage’ prevents the hair people from forcing the actress – Ms Fanning – from having her hair up? And the graveyard scene, is it an outtake from the latest teen vampire movie/TV show?

    • Lin

      All our bobby pins were imported from Russia, those darn sanctions! Now you know, if you wear your hair up you’re a commie sympathizer.

      • Susan Pola

        But the US sent boatloads. I suppose the RSC took the majority?

  10. janette

    Oh no. I so hate it when film makers/TV producers take a really interesting subject and trash it. Marry Shelly deserves so much better.

  11. Lin

    ‘Regency Grunge’ is henceforth the aesthetic I will attempt to live my life by.

  12. Susan Pola

    I rather be thought correct, than follow derpy fads like ‘Regency Grunge’. 😁 Bolin & Faberge tiaras, anyone?