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This past summer marks the 200th anniversary of the infamous Year without a Summer, during which the Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva in Switzerland served as the setting of a historic literary meeting of the minds. Two of the remarkable products of that gathering (which included Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, later to become Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Claire Clairmont, Lord Byron, and John Polidori) were the novel Frankenstein, the pioneering work of modern science fiction, and the short story "The Vampyre" by John Polidori, the first great prose work of vampire fiction.

A new film dealing with the story behind the stories (A Storm in the Stars, starring Elle Fanning as Mary, Douglas Booth as Percy, Bel Powley as Claire, Tom Sturridge as Byron, and Ben Hardy as Polidori) is scheduled for 2017. But you don't have to wait until next year to see a movie about the events of 1816.

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My Favorite: The Trippy One
Gothic (1986)
This has perhaps the best and most convincing cast of the three, with the late, great Natasha Richardson as Mary, Julian Sands as Percy, Myriam Cyr as Claire, Gabriel Byrne as Byron (I can't unsee this), and Timothy Spall as Polidori. It isn't for everyone, though. The more you know about what happened when the gang got together (such as Percy's drug-induced freak-outs and dreams), what inspired them (one part, for example, reenacts the scene from Fuseli's The Nightmare, as you can see in the above photo), and what ultimately happened to them (such as the nature of Percy's death), the more this will seem like a well-informed and evocative montage rather than a series of very trippy hallucination sequences. Mary's naive intelligence, Percy's eccentricity, and Byron's, um, Byron-ness aren't the easiest things to capture, and this film does the most successful job of it I've seen, while recognizing the complicated sexual dynamics of the group. It holds up as a psychological horror film in its own right.

Also Highly Recommended: The Dramatic One
Haunted Summer (1988)
This has a solid and subtle cast, with Alice "Borg Queen" Krige as Mary, Eric Stoltz as Percy, Laura Dern as Claire, Philip Anglim as Byron, and Alex Winter as Polidori. No complaints. This is a less fantastic, more intimate portrait of the Villa Diodati gathering. Gothic never loses the sense that these individuals were larger than life, half real and half legend; Haunted Summer moves more toward humanizing these brilliant and troubled souls. As this review notes, "Ivan Passer directs this beautifully photographed literary drama based on Anne Edward’s 1972 novel. In a very fluid and dreamlike way, Haunted Summer explores some of the dangers and a few of the exhilarations of living in an ivory tower world of art. Krige steals the film with her deft and nimble portrait of the woman who would eventually write Frankenstein."

Meh: *Shrugs*
Rowing with the Wind (1988)
This film was miscast, with Lizzy McInnerny as Mary, Valentine Pelka as Percy, Elizabeth Hurley as Claire, Hugh Grant as Byron (yeah, I know, right?), and José Luis Gómez as Polidori. As one review on Rotten Tomatoes puts it, this is a work of "music, scenery, girls getting out of bathtubs..." My favorite comment there is this one: "I give it a couple points for the giraffe." Speaks volumes, doesn't it? This film does have a few moments, but on the whole it's jumbled, unsure of what it wants to accomplish, a far cry from the other two.

"And there, ladies and gentlemen, on the other side of the lake we have the famous Villa Diodati where Lord Byron, greatest living English poet, resides in exile. Romantic, scholar, duelist, best-selling author of Childe Harold, he was forced to leave his native land after many scandals including incest and adultery with Lady Caroline Lamb. 'Mad, bad and dangerous to know,' she called him.... Bedroom, top right."
- Tour Guide, Gothic


Oct. 26th, 2016 04:13 pm (UTC)
If we are talking about the Villa Diodati, I share your fondness for Gothic, which I enjoyed quite a lot, but I would prefer a novel over it: Tim Powers' The Stress of Her Regard, with its ingenious explanation of what Shelley said that his friends misheard as "eyes in her breasts!"

"Mad, bad, and dangerous to know" was one of our descriptions for our recently deceased third cat, Taiki.

Edited at 2016-10-26 04:16 pm (UTC)
Oct. 27th, 2016 01:32 pm (UTC)
I've been interested in The Stress of Her Regard, but I was put off by comments I'd heard that Mary didn't have a central role. Out of Byron, Shelley, Polidori, Claire, and Mary, I found Mary by far the most important (from an intellectual history perspective) and interesting, and I didn't want to be disappointed if she was, in fact, in the novel's background. I'd be grateful for your advice!

"Mad, bad, and dangerous to know" was one of our descriptions for our recently deceased third cat, Taiki.

LOL! That's a hoot.
Oct. 28th, 2016 02:42 am (UTC)
I'm afraid it's long enough since I've reread it that I can't answer that particular question. I never had a readerly agenda that would make that point crucial for my enjoyment of it. The fact that I vividly remember PBS running into the house shouting an obscure German phrase does tend to suggest that he was a central figure, but then the obscure German phrase is exactly the sort of thing that would stick in my brain.

And I remember interviewing Powers for an SF con where he was GoH and having him talk about how Greg Benford told him that his silicon-based lifeforms were unworkable—and then told him how to cheat and make them sound plausible anyway. . . .

Anyway, to my taste Stress is one of the best things Powers wrote, second only to Declare, which has a structural tightness that his work hardly ever attains. Both have a sense of greater than human presences that evokes real terror. But I can't say how much the portrayal of MG (later MS) would frustrate you.

(I think it likely you will appreciate this: One of my fancies about literary history has been the idea of a love affair between William Blake and MG's mother, Mary Wollstonecraft. There is WB's poem about "proud Mary," about a woman condemned for not fitting in, and there is the woman in An Island in the Moon to whom WB's stand-in character, Quid the Cynic, says "Your face is like the tiger"; and Island also features Steelyard the Lawgiver, who is generally thought to be a portrayal of William Godwin. So there's just enough there so a novelist might be able to get away with it as historical fiction, assuming the dates could be made to line up. Frankenstein and his creature would fit remarkably well into one of WB's epics. . . .)

Edited at 2016-10-28 02:48 am (UTC)