BIG­GER THAN MON­STER

MARY’S OWN TALE IS TOLD 200 YEARS AF­TER SHE WROTE FRANKEN­STEIN

South Burnett Times - - SCREENLIFE - WORDS: SEANNA CRONIN

A rainy, dreary win­ter’s day seems like the per­fect time to talk about Franken­stein’s mon­ster. Mary Shel­ley’s mon­ster is still firmly em­bed­ded in the cul­tural zeit­geist two cen­turies af­ter her Gothic novel was pub­lished.

He has taken on many forms over the years, the most pop­u­lar be­ing the green giant with bolts stick­ing out of his neck.

But few know the real-life cir­cum­stances that in­spired him, un­til now.

Aus­tralian screen­writer Emma Jensen is the creative mind be­hind the pe­riod biopic

Mary Shel­ley that de­picts the love af­fair be­tween poet Percy Bysse Shel­ley and 18-year-old Mary Woll­stonecraft God­win that re­sulted in Mary writ­ing Franken­stein.

“I read it in high school as part of our Grade 12 cur­ricu­lum, but at the time you don’t fully ap­pre­ci­ate it,” she says.

“A few years later I read about Percy Shel­ley and the re­la­tion­ship with Mary – the di­vide be­tween the artist and the man – and that was fas­ci­nat­ing to me. A few years later I re-read Franken­stein and Mary’s pro­logue and re­ally grasped what her life was and the jour­ney it took her to cre­ate this ground­break­ing work. I thought ‘Why has no­body told this story?’

“I was work­ing in film de­vel­op­ment at the time but I wasn’t work­ing in com­pa­nies where we could tell this story. It was not some­thing I felt I could pur­sue in that ca­pac­ity, but when I fi­nally started writ­ing I found still no one’s told this story.”

Al­though Jensen has worked in the screen in­dus­try for nearly two decades, Mary Shel­ley is her first screen­play to be picked up for a fea­ture film.

She was de­lighted when ac­claimed Saudi film­maker Haifaa Al-Man­sour came on board to di­rect the drama.

“It was re­ally grat­i­fy­ing that she had re­sponded to it in that way,” she says. “(Her award-win­ning fea­ture film de­but)

Wad­jda had not long been re­leased at that point and there were a lot of ques­tions about what Haifaa was go­ing to do next. I could see what in Mary’s story she re­sponded to.

“It’s a mar­riage of our back­grounds and that shared ex­pe­ri­ence of what it means to be a woman and a creative.”

Raised by a renowned philoso­pher fa­ther in 18th-cen­tury Lon­don, Mary Woll­stonecraft God­win (Elle Fan­ning) is a teenage dreamer de­ter­mined to make her mark on the world when she meets the dash­ing and bril­liant poet Percy Shel­ley (Dou­glas Booth).

So be­gins a tor­rid, bo­hemian love af­fair marked by both pas­sion and per­sonal tragedy that will trans­form Mary and fuel the writ­ing of her Gothic mas­ter­work.

Jensen says the cast­ing of Fan­ning, younger sis­ter of ac­tress Dakota Fan­ning, was key to the film’s suc­cess.

“Elle was top of the list from the out­set. I be­lieve she was the first ac­tress we reached out to,” she says.

“Even at the time I didn’t fully ap­pre­ci­ate what she would bring to the role, the level of wis­dom and in­sight. You get the sense there’s this whole life lived in this woman. It’s a beau­ti­ful per­for­mance, and as a writer you couldn’t hope for bet­ter.”

Jensen says the film’s ex­plo­rations of equal­ity, gen­der roles, non-con­ven­tional re­la­tion­ships and find­ing your own voice are just as rel­e­vant in the cur­rent #metoo move­ment as they were 200 years ago.

“The frame­work changes but the strug­gle re­mains,” Jensen says. “Where this landed at this par­tic­u­lar time couldn’t be bet­ter tim­ing to be part of the con­ver­sa­tion and that chal­lenge that still faces women in the creative in­dus­try and be­yond.”

Mary Shel­ley is in cin­e­mas now.

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