Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley (August 30, 1797 – February 1, 1851) is one of those few authors who’ve turned up in frock flicks as themselves, as well as having frock flicks made of their works. But I don’t think she’s gotten a really solid biopic — most movies focus on the writing of Frankenstein, which, sure, is what she’s famous for, but there’s a lot more to explore. Raised in a tumultuous and politically radical family, Mary then fell passionately in love with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Their relationship was even more turbulent, and Mary gave birth to four children, only one of which survived infancy. After 8 years together, Shelley died, and Mary spent the next two decades of her life editing and publishing her husband’s works and writing more of her own fiction, plus articles and reviews. This woman had a full life worth exploring on screen, and I’d like to see a bit more than these excerpts.
Elsa Lanchester in Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
The movie sequel to Mary Shelley’s novel is introduced by the author (even though she didn’t write this story). Lanchester also plays the iconic bride in this film.
Natasha Richardson in Gothic (1986)
Ken Russell directed, so it’s banana-crackers. This was Natasha Richardson’s feature film debut, and she did an admirable job with the admittedly weird material.
Lizzy McInnerny in Rowing with the Wind (1988)
A very silly film with cheap costumes, but the best part is towards the end when Mary tells off Lord Byron (Hugh Grant) for being a pretentious git.
Alice Krige in Haunted Summer (1988)
Better costumes (by Gabriella Pescucci!) with a more teen romance take on the summer of 1816 at Lake Geneva.
Bridget Fonda in Frankenstein Unbound (1990)
A modern horror flick where a mad scientist goes back to 1816 Lake Geneva to meet Mary Shelley and the poets. Um, whatever. Though why did we get so many blonde Mary Shelleys?
Sally Hawkins in Byron (2003)
Lake Geneva is a brief episode in Byron’s life, but at least a decent actress plays Mary (even if she gets a dull dress, as Kendra says).
Anna Maxwell Martin in The Frankenstein Chronicles (2015)
She’s only in the first few episodes of the first season — y’know, to put the “Frankenstein” in “The Frankenstein Chronicles” — but this is the kind of using real people in fictional stories that I find entertaining fun. Also, I love watching Anna Maxwell Martin, she’s good in everything!
Morgana Robinson in “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,” Drunk History: UK (2016)
Because I’m a completist and I like my history drunk!
Elle Fanning in Mary Shelley (2018)
This biopic isn’t as bad as all that, but does the biopic thing of trying to tell too much of her story. What it got right was Mary’s youth and the fly-by-night quality of her and Shelley’s relationship. The costumes do range from tragic to just OK though.
Evan Rachel Wood in “Are You Afraid of the Drunk?,” Drunk History (2019)
In the series last season, they went broad, literary, and expanded from outside U.S. history.
Lili Miller in “The Haunting of Villa Diodati,” Doctor Who (2020)
Of course, the Doctor takes her companions to visit Lake Geneva in 1816 — I’m only surprised it took this long!
Who’s your favorite onscreen version of Mary Shelley? Do you want to see more?
‘Gothic’ sounds great. I watched ‘Lair of the White Worm’ by the same director fairly recently and that was superb: utterly batshit with some terrible acting from the two love interests, but iconic looks for everyone else, plus young Hugh Grant and Peter Capaldi.
Big fan of the Drunk History sketches!
Way back-in college we has a little “Russellfest” and watched a bunch of his movies all in one day. It was cray cray, lol
If I remember rightly both Hogg and Claire describe Mary as having red-gold hair, so I suspect that’s why there are so many blond Marys.
My favorite is Anna Maxwell Martin in the Frankenstein Chronicles as it shows her post Shelley (she survived him by almost 30 years). Plus William Blake as a character and Sean Bean as an actor.
I enjoyed Crow’s Eye Production’s Dressing Up video of Mary Shelley. It was released around Halloween and involved the summer of 1816, but I still found it charming.
I’ll take the 2018 version for showing her beat the system and get recognition in her own right.
I am living for Elle Fanning’s tilty top hat.
Also a cameo in the episode of Highlander ‘The Modern Prometheus’ where we find out that part of the inspiration for frankenstein was the fact that Byron was an immortal and Shelley saw him die and come back to life.
Oh and then in 1997, he gets his head chopped off XD
You missed one of the strangest TV versions, which I remember watching on BBC2 almost fifty years ago. “Shelley” was inexplicably set in the present day – Byron (Peter Bowles) wore a hippyesque velvet jacket and drove a nifty sports car – and Mary was played by Jenny Agutter, Shelley by Richard Chamberlain.
Sorry, I meant Robert Powell!
OMG–I am IN LOVE with this post. Yes, Mary Shelley was fascinating IN HER OWN RIGHT. Thank you for showcasing so many on-screen versions of her. I’ve only seen one of these – the hilarious one with Hugh Grant. So, I will be checking for ALL of these versions.
And also–OMG is that my gone too soon, beautiful and tragic crush MICHAEL HUTCHENCE in 1990’s Frankenstein Unbound???? Whoa! I had no idea he dipped his toes in the film world! I MUST see this one – for him alone. Other notes: 1. The pic from Haunted Summer reminded me that Eric Stoltz could really smolder. 2. Elle Fanning’s costume in the top picture from Mary Shelley 2018 really speaks to me. THANKS AGAIN for this list!!
A little late commenting, but Elsa Lanchester gave the following description of her costume in her autobiography:
“Mary Shelly’s dress was the most fairy-like creation that I have ever seen before or since in a film. It had a low neck, tiny puffed sleeves and a bodice that continued in a long line to the floor and onto a train about seven feet long. The entire white net dress was embroidered with iridescent sequins–butterflies, stars and moons. It took seventeen Mexican ladies twelve weeks to make it. The dress traveled around the country and appeared in the foyers of all the big openings of Bride of Frankenstein.”
The dress was so low-cut that a number of shots of it had to be removed to satisfy the censors.
I always wondered whatever happened to it after that tour it made around the country.
What wonderful information. Thank you for sharing!