'Mary Shelley': 4 Characters From the Film and Their Real-Life Counterparts

2:19 PM 5/25/2018

by Zoe Haylock

Find out how Elle Fanning, Douglas Booth, Bel Powley and Tom Sturridge prepared for their roles in Haifaa al-Mansour's gothic coming-of-age film about the 'Frankenstein' author.

Mary Shelley - STILL 2 - TIFF PUBLICITY - H 2017
Courtesy of TIFF

Mary Shelley, directed by Haifaa Al-Mansourshows the eponymous young author (Elle Fanning) falling in love with married Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth) and beginning a tumultuous life of travel, infidelity and loss.

By the time she pens the original concept for Frankenstein (at the Genevan home of Lord Byron, played by Tom Sturridge), Mary Shelley (born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin) is only 18 years old, but with a life overflowing with pain. Find more historical information about the tragic author and portraits of Shelley herself here

Tasked with playing two of Shelley's Gothic-era contemporaries are Bel Powley (as Shelley’s half-sister and best friend, Claire Clairmont) and Maisie Williams.

The movie first screened at the Toronto International Film Festival before being picked up by IFC, which released it Friday.

To find out how these 21st century actors became 19th century writers, read on.

  • Mary Shelley, portrayed by Elle Fanning

    To play a feminist, headstrong interpretation of Mary Shelley (born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin), Fanning looked no further than her family members.

    “I live with my mom and my grandmother, and I have a sister, and my mom’s sister has a daughter,” she told Net-a-Porter's Porter magazine. “It’s generations of women who are very fierce and not afraid to speak their minds. I grew up in a household where, if you want your voice to be heard, you have to be louder, and I feel like I’m a stronger woman because of it. Of course, I’m still finding myself. But I’m almost there.”

    Even if Fanning doesn’t completely know herself yet, she certainly learned a lot about Shelley through the process, the actress told Total Film.

    “What fascinated me was that it’s a struggling artist, but it’s a woman struggling artist, which you don’t see very often,” she added. “And when I filmed the movie, I was about to turn 18. This was the last movie that I had to do school on the set. It was a milestone movie for me.”

  • Percy Shelley, portrayed by Douglas Booth

    Douglas Booth, whom New York Magazine critic Emily Yoshida calls “capably dashing,” plays Mary Shelley’s adulterous poet husband. Although the relationship is fraught with drama and sadness, al-Mansour thought the passion was just as important. 

    After all, the real Percy and Mary Shelley were together from 1814 until his untimely death in 1822, despite their hardships. 

  • Claire Clairmont, portrayed by Bel Powley

    Bel Powley plays Mary Shelley’s half-sister, Claire Clairmont. The two are extremely close and Claire even tags along with Percy and Mary when they begin their travels. In the film, she goes with them to Lord Byron's home in Geneva, where Claire becomes pregnant (and is later abandoned) by Byron.

    Fanning remarked to Total Film that she and Powley had a "revolt against the corsets."



  • Lord Byron, portrayed by Tom Sturridge

    Tom Sturridge, who currently appears on the Starz show Sweetbitter, plays the enigmatic and eccentric Lord Byron in Mary Shelley. His dark yet vivacious take on the poet is a bold choice. 

    “We had already had this relationship and created our bond ... and he came in and really spiced it up,” Fanning told The Hollywood Reporter. “His Lord Byron is so wacky and cool.”

    In the same interview, Powley and Booth recalled Sturridge improvising a lot. 

    “He walked out of that big stately home and suddenly yelled my name,” Booth said of their first scene together. “First thing, and we had all been getting on very happily, and he just yelled, ‘Shelley!’ He just strode over to me and just kissed me on the lips, which wasn’t in the script.”