Following a stellar year for queer female characters in period pieces like The Favourite, Colette, and Lizzie, it was announced in December that Oscar-winner Kate Winslet and Lady Bird star Saoirse Ronan will play lovers in Ammonite, based on the life of British paleontologist Mary Anning. Now some of Anning's relatives have spoken out against the film for fictionalizing a lesbian romance.
While there’s not yet much out there about the plot, the film, from God’s Own Country director Francis Lee, takes place in a coastal town in the United Kingdom circa 1820. It tells the story of a romance between Anning and Ronan’s character, a “London woman of means to whom she must unexpectedly play nursemaid.”
The family argues that Anning’s life, considering she’s been hailed as “the unsung hero of fossil discovery” by the Natural History Museum, was interesting enough without adding a fictionalized romance with another woman.
“Do the filmmakers have to resort to using unconfirmed aspects to somebody’s sexuality to make an already remarkable story sensational? Imagine the shame and embarrassment this woman would be feeling right now to actually have her private sex life discussed and played out on-screen,” said Barbara Anning, one of Anning’s relatives, according to The Telegraph. “This adds nothing to her story.”
Barbara Anning also took umbrage at the fact that Winslet, who is straight, is playing gay.
“I believe if Mary Anning was gay, she should be portrayed as gay and this should also be by a gay actress,” Barbara Anning said. “But I do not believe there is any evidence to back up portraying her as a gay woman… I believe Mary Anning was abused because she was poor, uneducated, and a woman. Is that not enough?”
Another family member, Julie Anning Fletcher, accused the filmmakers (See-Saw Films, the BBC, and the BFI) of “producing a film for market trends,” especially in the wake of The Favourite, which ran with actual romantic letters between Queen Anne and her lady-in-waiting and developed a full-on sexual relationship between them.
But another of Anning’s relatives said she’s not opposed to the romance between women in Ammonite.
“I think it might be to make her more attractive. The fact she was a loner, an independent woman, in today’s times that could mean something different,” Lorraine Anning told The Telegraph. “To be honest, it doesn’t matter; as long as it’s well presented and tastefully done and in the spirit of Mary Anning, then I think it’s brilliant.”