The retelling of a palaeontologist’s daily life in Lyme Regis might not provoke a stampede to the cinema, but a love story starring the double-whammy of Saoirse Ronan and Kate Winslet certainly will. Set on the chilly beaches of 1840’s England, Mary Anning (Winslet) is approached by a rich tourist who asks her to recuperate his wife (Ronan), who is suffering from ‘melancholia’. Initially hostile but desperate for the money, she accepts, and her icy exterior, hardened from years of being undervalued as a self-taught poor woman in the aristocratic male-led field of fossil hunting, begins to melt.
Francis Lee’s 2017 debut God’s Own Country about a gay Yorkshire farm worker was as striking as the rugged landscapes it depicted, full of nuanced acting, detailed relationships, and a sensory language rooted in the verdant fields of its setting. Aside from the obvious crowd-drawing celebrity of the two leads, Ammonite’s supporting cast also includes some familiar actors who shone in God’s Own Country, namely Alec Secăreanu and Gemma Jones, with the exciting addition of dryly humorous Killing Eve favourite Fiona Shaw; the full plot and roles of these characters remains unknown.
A glittering cast as delicately beautiful as its fossil namesake,
The film has stirred controversy over its portrayal of Anning as queer, despite there being no explicit biographical ‘evidence’ of this. Considering how historians as well as creators have generally ‘straightened’ the past, disregarding queer female couples as the Victorian equivalent of ‘gal-pals/Just Very Good Friends Who Like To Hold Hands’, it is refreshing to be presented with the exact opposite of ‘straight until proven otherwise’, with Lee tweeting in reply to the media criticism "Would these newspaper writers have felt the need to…fan ‘controversial’ flames…if the character's sexuality had been assumed to be heterosexual?"
Inevitably, similarities have been drawn between Ammonite and Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady On Fire, and with the latter in such recent memory (as well as being, y’know, one of the best films of all time) the turbulent coastal scenery, shots of candlelit hands at work and unspoken lesbian desire scored by flourishes of dramatic violin are definitely reminiscent of one another.
It is perhaps a testament though to the necessity of new queer cinema that the list of major-released queer period films can be counted on one hand and so easily compared, exposing an obvious need for more mainstream queer films focusing on people of colour and those from other marginalised identities, as well as films without artfully tragic endings.
With a glittering cast as delicately beautiful as its fossil namesake, Ammonite looks to be an assured next step from a director carving out an outstanding repertoire of rural queer cinema.
Feature Image Credit: IMDb