A bone to pick: Fury at fossil pioneer’s lesbian storyline
The film starring Kate Winslet will depict Mary Anning's affair with a woman, but her family is not happy
Mary Anning has been hailed by the Natural History Museum as “the unsung hero of fossil discovery”. But her extraordinary story was not quite enough to satisfy the producers of a new film about her life.
Ammonite, which began filming in Lyme Regis on Monday with Kate Winslet in the starring role, will focus on a romance between Anning and a younger woman, played by Saoirse Ronan.
The relationship is a fiction, and its inclusion has drawn a mixed response from Anning’s relatives and others who want her to be recognised for her many achievements.
The film comes hot on the heels of The Favourite, which “sexed up” the life of Queen Anne with a lesbian love triangle.
Anning, who came from humble beginnings, made her first discovery at the age of 12 when she and her brother found the remains of an ichthyosaurus while digging on the Jurassic Coast. This was in 1811, 48 years before the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.
As the Natural History Museum puts it, her life was “a constellation of firsts”. She went on to uncover other dinosaur species that caused a sensation, but male scientists often wrote of these finds in scientific papers without crediting her. The Geological Society of London refused to admit her – they did not admit any women until 1904 – and she died in relative obscurity.
She never married and had no direct descendants, but distant relatives are scattered around the globe.
Lorraine Anning, who lives in Cumbria, said she did not object to the romantic storyline. “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,” she said.
“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.” Lorraine Anning said she would like to see her ancestor on the new £50 note.
Not all the Annings are of the same view. In an online discussion forum, Barbara Anning said: “I believe if Mary Anning was gay, she should be portrayed as gay, and this should also be by a gay actress. 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? “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. This adds nothing to her story.”
Another relation, Julie Anning Fletcher, said Ammonite’s makers are “producing a film for market trends”.
Dr Bretton Carter, an artist and fossil hunter, told the forum: “I have mixed feelings about this movie. Being gay, I’m all about the inclusion of LGBTQ characters, but I feel like Mary Anning is an interesting enough person as she is. They didn’t have to throw in a same-sex affair.”
There is a campaign, Mary Anning Rocks, for a statue of her to be built in Lyme Regis. A spokesperson for the campaign group said on their Facebook page: “Too few have even heard of her name, let alone her remarkable achievements … At least this way Mary Anning’s name will get more recognition even if it’s because of a daft Hollywood blockbuster!”
A spokesperson for the filmmakers said Ammonite is inspired by Anning’s life, but “not intended to be a biopic”.
The film is directed by Francis Lee, whose previous credits include God’s Own Country. Ronan plays a young woman who comes to the coast to convalesce, and the actress said in a recent interview that she was thrilled to be acting opposite Winslet.
“You know, if I could tell my eight-year-old self, who watched Titanic nearly every single night before she went to bed, that one day she was going to get to kiss the face off Kate Winslet, she would be very delighted indeed,” said Ronan.
– © The Daily Telegraph