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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
We first encounter 16-year-old Mary as the daughter of a struggling London bookshop proprietor named William Godwin. Her mother died soon after Mary was born, and she has an uncomfortable relationship with her stepmother but is devoted to Claire, her stepsister. On a trip to Scotland, Mary encounters poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and falls in love with him, unaware at first that, though he’s only 21, he is married and the father of a daughter. Soon after she returns to London, Shelley follows her and is taken on as an apprentice by Godwin. Eventually the couple elopes, and Claire joins them in what becomes a menage a trois.
Inevitably, all three wind up at the Geneva chateau belonging to the wildly eccentric Lord Byron. In the company of Dr Polidori, they all become involved in lengthy binge-drinking sessions and other debauched behaviour. It’s during one of these sessions that Byron challenges his guests to write a ghost story and Mary, now 18 and thoroughly disillusioned by the monstrous men in her life, writes the book that would make her famous for generations to come.
Writing the book was one thing. Getting it published under her own name, when female writers were strongly discouraged, proved to be something else entirely, as the film also depicts in some detail. Mary must have been a remarkable young woman, willing to overthrow the social customs and mores of the time to live “in sin” with her married lover and, though always living on the edge of poverty, to travel and hold her own with some of the most celebrated men of the era. Most of all the film is a tribute to its brave and uncompromising women.