A Nightmare Wakes review – Mary Shelley battles her inner monsters | Film

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Here is an earnestly intended psychological drama about Mary Shelley, and her relationship with Percy Bysshe Shelley, Byron, Polidori and Claire Clairmont during that legendary summer in 1816 on Lake Geneva when Byron challenged everyone to write a ghost story – and Mary conceived of Frankenstein, so commercially outpacing the literary alpha males and anticipating the modern world in ways far beyond them. The film’s drama centres on the trauma of her pregnancy and childbirth, yoking together the ideas of her dark imagination with pre- and postpartum depression, as well as the patriarchal male-author myth – Percy is shown being threatened by Mary’s creativity and sensuality.

It is an idealistic and heartfelt film, but also precious and self-conscious with some pretty callow performances, like a student production at the Edinburgh fringe. What it also appears sometimes to be doing is making a play for some old-fashioned horror scares, in honour of Mary Shelley’s enduring creation, with periodic hallucinatory flashes of Mary (Alix Wilton Regan) looking as she perhaps imagines herself to be – gaunt and monstrous and demonic, approaching a kind of emotional breakdown.

But the film can’t quite make up its mind if it wants us to surrender to out-and-out genre thrills, or if we should be taking a step back and responding on a loftier literary-historical level, considering the sexual politics that lay behind the production and consumption of the Frankenstein myth. Philippe Bowgen is a ridiculous and roistering Byron, often shown with his shirt half-off, sensuous, anarchically laughing and wine-quaffing, while Giullian Yao Gioiello is a blandly unsympathetic Percy Shelley. It’s a dry and somewhat lifeless tableau.

Released on 4 February on Shudder.

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Source: The Guardian
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