Writer and director Francis Lee became fascinated by the life of British paleontologist Mary Anning. But when he discovered there was virtually nothing written about her personal life, he felt compelled to write something that would elevate her — even if he took a few liberties by giving her a romantic relationship with another pioneering female scientist.
The romantic drama, which had its world premiere at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival, depicts a relationship between Anning (played by Kate Winslet) and British geologist Charlotte Murchison, played by Saoirse Ronan. (There is no evidence of a romantic relationship between the two, according to historians.)
“Here was this woman, born into poverty in a very strong patriarchal, class-ridden society and she was totally working class and she had very little education and yet she rose to being the leading paleontologist of her generation,” Lee said during TheWrap’s virtual studio for Toronto International Film Festival.
“I knew I wanted to give her a relationship, but a relationship that felt very respectful of her and again that would elevate her,” Lee continued. “And in this very patriarchal society that didn’t feel like it should be with a man because women in this period were owned by men, they were the subjects of men.”
“Ammonite,” which is Lee’s second feature-length film, depicts a passionate love story that unfolds quietly, with long silences and very little music accompaniment, which Lee says was very intentional.
“I just felt she wouldn’t come home and talk about how she felt a lot,” said Lee, whose 2017 film, “God’s Own Country,” was nominated for Outstanding British Film of the Year at the BAFTAs. “I felt that we could tell that story particularly with Kate and Saoirse who are so fantastic without explaining it — through body language, through small gestures, through this internalized emotion.”
Watch the interview above.