For filmmaker Francis Lee, his lesbian love story Ammonite between notable 19th century fossil hunter Mary Anning and socialite Charlotte Murchison wasn’t so much a response to the uber-conservative culture we’ve experienced over the past four years, rather, it was more personal for the 2017 Sundance-winning filmmaker of God’s Own Country.
“I’m a working class person, and I’m also queer and with Ammonite, what I was trying to do was find a way for me to understand my journey about feeling like, or sometimes or often, an outsider. How do you have to forge your own path? You don’t necessarily go down the well-trodden path because of the circumstance. So, how do you circum-navigate or go in a slightly different direction to find your own personal happiness?” Lee tells Crew Call today.
Ammonite follows Mary Anning, played by Kate Winslet, who finds fossils on the Dorset coast (aka the Jurassic coast) of Great Britain. She lives a lonely life with her mother against the cold, blistering weather. After visiting the town, Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan) is abandoned by her husband, and left in Mary’s care. The two, though from different backgrounds, soon find safety and redemption in each other’s arms. Part of the extrapolation with Ammonite is that Lee made Mary and Charlotte lovers, despite there being no historical record of such personal details.
“I was reading a lot about queer sexuality in the 17th and the 18th century and how they conducted their relationships within that society and parameters. I was struck by how passionate, emotional and heartfelt these relationships were,” explains Lee about his inspiration.
“Here is a working class woman, and I wanted to give her a relationship that felt worthy and equally elevated her. In a society where men overlooked her, and re-appropriated her work for themselves; it didn’t feel like it could be with a man. There’s no documentation that said she ever had a relationship with a woman. To me it felt like a respectful and interesting way to contextualize her,” says the filmmaker.
NEON’s Ammonite made its world premiere at TIFF and is currently available on PVOD.
Listen to Lee’s conversation with us in which he expounds on how he got Ammonite off the ground, landed both Winslet and Ronan, and how both actresses turned in their most sublime, understated performances to date: