Ammonite Director Francis Lee Reveals Why he Chose to Depict Mary Anning

Ammonite - Production Still - Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan

Francis Lee's first film – 2017's God’s Own Country – centred around an isolated farm worker, and was lauded by critics for being a progressive portrayal of gay romance. The British director's second outing, Ammonite, tells the story of another person set apart from society – Mary Anning, who became the most prominent paleontologist of her time, despite being a working-class woman in the 1940s. 

Mary (Kate Winslet) works along the shores of the famous Jurassic Coast, where she unearths treasures that have ended up in the British Museum. However, her quiet rhythms are disrupted when Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan) is deposited with her for convalescence by her husband, who says Charlotte suffers from "melancholia".

As the two women become closer, despite being from two different worlds, more things start being unearthed than just fossils...

Leading the way

Selected to be screened at the Cannes and Telluride film festivals before they got cancelled due to the pandemic, Ammonite will get its UK premiere when it closes the BFI London Film Festival in October, before the rest of us get to see it in 2021.

In anticipation of its release, Lee recently talked with entertainment website HeyUGuys about why he wanted to tell this particular story.

Lee says it was the contrast between Mary’s background and what she achieved that drew him to her story: “The things that really struck me about her were that she was a working-class woman, born into poverty, with no education or advantage, who rose to being – albeit unrecognized – what we see now as the leading paleontologist of her generation.

“That really struck a chord with me – I obsess about class, and gender, and representation, and there was this working-class woman in a totally patriarchal, class-ridden society, who achieved so much.”

Asked why he wanted Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan to play Mary and Charlotte, Lee says: “I love transformative actors – people who play people who are different from themselves, emotionally and physically – and so casting is super, super important. Both Kate and Saoirse were top of my list – I was very lucky that they accepted, and I was very honored that they both trusted me enough and wanted to work in the way in which I like to work, which is a very detailed, immersive, character-driven way.”

Watch the full interview with Francis Lee below:



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