Saudi Arabian filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour follows up her critically acclaimed film Wadja with Mary Shelley, a gothic romance about the events which inspired Mary Shelley’s seminal novel Frankenstein. Charting the tumultuous relationship between Mary and her husband Percy, Al-Mansour weaves together a tale of love, betrayal and gender bias.

Infatuated with reading, especially ghost stories, Mary Wollstonecraft (Elle Fanning) longed to be a writer like her esteemed parents. Her passion for words is further fueled when she meets and falls in love with 21-year-old celebrated poet, Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth). Ignoring her father’s warning of the scandal that will erupt if she pursues a relationship with Percy, a womanizer who is still technically married to another woman, Mary decides to run away, with younger stepsister Clare (Bel Powley) in tow, to live a life free of social constrictions with the poet. Blinded by the idealistic veil of love, Percy’s wandering eyes and neglect of responsibilities slowly opens Mary’s eyes to hypocritical darkness within men.

Through Mary Shelley’s life Al-Mansour shows the disarming and unpredictable ways in which love can breakdown the most stringent of defenses. Similar to her mother, who died 10 days after she was born, Mary is a strong-willed individual who is completely caught off-guard by love. The passion that initially brought her and Percy together ultimately begins to isolate her from everything she once knew, including herself. Al-Mansour skillfully accentuates this by having the camera linger in lavish rooms void of human contact. Although the film occasionally overstates the obvious, the strong performance by Fanning ensures that Al-Mansour’s empowering message of self-actualization shines through.

Sunday, September 10, 1:30 PM, Scotiabank 2

Tickets can be purchased at the TIFF website.