1840s England, acclaimed but overlooked fossil hunter Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) and Charlotte (Soairse Ronan) sent to convalesce by the sea develop an intense relationship, altering both of their lives forever.
In the 1840s, acclaimed self-taught palaeontologist Mary Anning works alone on.the wild and brutal 'Southern English' coastline of 'Lyme Regis'. The days of her famed discoveries behind her, she now hunts for common fossils to sell torich tourists to support herself and.her ailing widowed mother. When one such tourist, Roderick Murchison (James McArdle), arrives in Lyme on the first leg of a 'European' tour, he entrusts Mary with the care of his young wife Charlotte, who's recuperating from apersonal tragedy. Mary, whose life is a daily struggle on the poverty line, cannot afford to turn him down but, proud and relentlessly passionate about her work, she clashes with her unwanted guest. They're two women from utterly different worlds. Yet despite the chasm between their social spheresand personalities, Mary and Charlotte discover they can each offer what the other has been searching for: the realization that they are not alone. It's the beginning of a passionate and all-consuming love affair that will defy all social bounds and alter the course of both lives irrevocably.
When "Ammonite" begins, we find Mary Anning slightly past her prime at this point, the days of her making huge discoveries as a leading scientist in the field of palaeontology are somewhat over, and she’s a little bit jaded with the profession. She’s been much maligned by her male counterparts. She’s looking after her ailing mother Molly (Gemma Jones) and selling fossils from the fossil shop where they live. A working class woman working on the unforgiving and dangerous sea shore in Dorset, with virtually no education, thrust into being the breadwinner for the family at the age of 11 following her father’s death, and rising to become one of the leading but totally unrecognised palaeontologists of her generation, totally self-taught in a deeply patriarchal and class ridden society. Mary is remarkably stoic. She was born into a life of poverty, lived in a class-ridden, patriarchal society, and was very much sidelined. Her achievements were taken from her by her male counterparts; they would credit themselves for the majority of Mary’s finds. But she's determined, she's very headstrong, so she didn’t change who she's as a person. She's uneducated, but she learned from her father, who died when she was ten years old; it's because of the things he taught her that she found her first ichthyosaur at eleven. She has an inquisitive mind and a vast, knowledgeable brain, this self-taught ability that she has, and that she continues to learn throughout her life, is something we truly admired in her. There’s not a huge amount of literature on her, and we don’t know very much about her personal life, but one thing that we do know is that she would give the little that she has to the poor.
Among the fossils she also find items that smugglers were hiding on the beach, in the caves. In those days you were supposed to turn over anything you found of a smuggled nature to the authorities; but Mary re-hides the things that she finds and then tell the poor people where they're! There's absolutely no evidence Mary ever has a relationship with anyone, whether that be heterosexual or same sex. She has close friendships with women and in the society of the time, where women are the subjects of men and where Mary has been virtually written out of history because of her gender and social status, it didn’t feel right to give her a relationship with a man. It's difficult to be open and vulnerable enough to love and be loved, particularly if you’ve been badly scarred by a past relationship. The film explores what this relationship might mean to someone who has not only been socially and geographically isolated but who has had to close off to any emotional life, where you replace affection and intimacy with work and duty. Where you’ve been overlooked and ignored your whole life because of your gender and social class. Given this world, would Mary be able to access how she feels for Charlotte? Would she be able to let her guard down to allow the possibility of something new and wonderful to enter her life? The film is fascinated by how these female relationships could flourish in this world, a world where the medical profession still believed women had no sexual pleasure organs and still 50 years before science categorised sexual orientation and then only for men.
Through lighting, the film depicts the change Charlotte brings with her into this world, how she alters the environment, bringing her own sense of light into his dark, unemotional world. Charlotte has been married to Roderick Murchison for a couple of years at this point. She lost a child, and just feels empty and a bit useless, really. At that point in history the only purpose that a woman had was to marry, keep the home and have a child; so she feels fundamentally like a failure. It’s six months on from the death of her child, and she’s still in mourning, and hasn’t come out of that depression yet. So she’s brought to Lyme Regis, and she’s left there,,and she can think of nothing worse. Roderick leaves, and she and Mary don’t get on initially. But the safety of being with somebody who doesn’t want anything from her, isn’t asking anything of her, and allows her to break down and grieve and then start to come out of that a healthier stronger person. They really help to build one another up; and so get to a place where Charlotte still has this sadness, but she can live with it, and survive it. Her relationship with Roderick is really fraught at the beginning of the film; their marriage has become quite strained; they don’t have sex anymore, and even when they did, it's probably a very functional thing. What makes Charlotte quite unique, is that she’s somebody who's quite willing to take a back seat in terms of attention or being the one to shine.
Her talent comes through in putting somebody else up on a pedestal and allowing everyone to see their greatness. She’s got a great sense of humility, and she’s a very giving person. She’s someone who has been very hurt and broken, but who still has a great capacity for love anddoesn’t shy away from that at all. From Charlotte’s point of view, she just wants to be held, and to have someone close to her physically who can at least try and understand what she’s going through. He’s probably going through the same thing, but they don’t know how to articulate it. There’s so much expected of them at that time, to just keep going and pretending everything’s fine, it puts a lot of strain on them. Then they've this time apart, and Charlotte comes out a different person in a way, a stronger person. And he’s gone off and had this adventure, where he’s been able to find his passion. The relationship between Mary and Molly, it’s quite tense. Mary’s mother has a hold over her. Mary does respect her, and doesn’t want to let her down, but at the same time she's held by this life, by the darkness of this world, and that’s largely to do with her mother being stuck in her ways and scared of change. Mary’s determination to carve out her own personality whist living with another powerful woman was quite difficult, but it’s also quite funny. There are funny moments, where you see Mary roll her eyes behind Molly’s back.
At the beginning of the story Mary is tired, tired of living a hard impoverished life; increasingly impatient with her mother; disheartened with her profession and with trudging out on the cold beaches. Emotionally she’s really shut down, and she doesn’t expect life to deal her any nice cards at all. So the attachment she forms to Charlotte is really interesting. She doesn’t expect to fall in love with Charlotte at all, she initially finds her a bit silly and irritating, and doesn’t want to have to look after this tiny little sparrow of an upper class woman who wears the wrong shoes and puts on lace gloves to go fossiling. But her opinion of Charlotte really does change, in spite of herself. Even though they’re from completely different worlds, what you realise is that they’re equals in many ways. They’re both looking for affection; they’re both trapped in their own worlds, for a variety of reasons. Mary doesn’t have the finances to explore the world; but Charlotte is trapped by her finances, as the quiet little wife who’s very much kept. Mary brings out a feistier side in Charlotte, and Charlotte learns things about herself she never would have known were it not for Mary. She has lost a child, so she’s grieving; through friendship with Mary, she’s able to start thinking about other things, thinking beyond the grief. Her spirits lift, she gets healthier - and that’s all because of Mary. Charlotte is inspired by Mary; she’s never seen a woman like this, a strong woman who lives alone, who doesn’t have a husband to provide for her. For Mary, Charlotte is beautiful and delicate in a way that she herself isn’t.
She’s got gnarled hands, she doesn’t look in the mirror, she barely takes a brush to her hair; so there are many things about Charlotte that she finds utterly fascinating. The way she smell of perfume and nice fabrics, it’s not Mary’s world at all. There’s an intoxicating aroma that follows Charlotte, and for Mary it’s something very new, something that she’s never imagined she’d stand that close to. Charlotte in turn feels like she’s almost got to live up to Mary. What Charlotte does that really helps Mary to come out of herself, and get rid of some of that coolness that she’s carried with her for so long, is that Charlotte won’t give up. She goes in with open arms, isn’t afraid to be vulnerable with Mary, and isn’t afraid to show what her feelings for her are. That catches Mary off-guard, but she’s forced into a place where she has to do the same. The physical environment is also very important, not just the exteriors but also the interiors. This world is defined by space Mary is working class and has little money, her living environment is small, with few windows, almost claustrophobic, dark and uncomfortable. In contrast, Charlotte’s interior world is flooded with light, space to escape, in other words there's choice within Charlotte’s world. It's fascinating to see each character inhabit each other’s interior and exterior live. "Ammonite" is a really good example of how the industry is changing. It’s a symbiotic change. For Mary, she ends up letting love in; and with Charlotte, there’s a sense of pride in work, an understanding of who she's, and how not to be defined by the norms of the day.
"Ammonite" is shot in a linear, chronological way. Allowing each scene to impact on the next emotionally, like building blocks within the story. This is particularly challenging but it has paid off, given the strong emotional arc that's depicted at the heart of the film. The camera movement reflects not just the landscape but also the emotional state of the characters. An investigation into how to navigate a relationship from deeply lonely, disconnected beginnings. How we learn how to love again after being hurt. How we can be open enough to love and be loved. How we can accept and forgive and learn through the power of a true, intimate connection. But the world was a very different place: people’s emotions were much more hidden, things were just much more behind closed doors; religion played a much bigger part in everyday life. Throughout the history of cinema, there’s been a real enjoyment in finding romantic relationships through real people in history, from ‘Shakespeare In Love’ to ‘The King And I’. It marks our time that we can be free and open to the idea that there could have been a same sex relationship in Mary’s life, as there might have been a heterosexual relationship. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what life you're born into possibilities are out there, possibilities are endless. Being authentically true to yourself and using your voice to be who you want to be is more important than anything else in this world.
Now more than ever we’re living in a time when women are absolutely obsessed with other women and when, more than what we look like or how we feel when we walk down the street, it’s about what women have to say. Women are greater together: the more strong female voices we've, the more togetherness we show, more examples we've of great women history, the more inspired we will feel as a community to support one another, to encourage one another and to inspire one another. For years we’ve been judged; still now we’re judged. We’re questioned all the time, we’re asked to justify our choices, why we wear what we wear, why we do our hair the way we do, why we work or don’t work. We’re seeing a new chapter in the history of women. We’re seeing much more equality in the workplace. We’re at a point now in society, and politics, and art, and film, where we’re definitely being given a platform to share stories we weren’t able to before. It shows a progression, and a real acceptance about the way we're now. People throughout history have been able to find a sense of self that’s not necessarily celebrated by the patriarchy of the time; people still live their lives.