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Ammonite director Francis Lee defends ‘truthful’ lesbian romance

Patrick Kelleher March 18, 2019
kate winslet saoirse ronan pictured on the set of ammonite.

Hollywood stars Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan began filming in Lyme Regis for the film Ammonite, which will feature a lesbian romance between the two. (Love Lyme Regis/Facebook)

Francis Lee, director of upcoming lesbian romance film Ammonite, has responded to backlash against the project, saying he treats his “truthful” characters with “total respect.”

A number of commentators have taken aim at the film, which stars Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, for representing real-life palaeontologist Mary Anning as a lesbian, and have claimed that there is no evidence to show that she had romantic relationships with women.

“After seeing queer history be routinely ‘straightened’ throughout culture, and given a historical figure where there is no evidence whatsoever of a heterosexual relationship, is it not permissible to view that person within another context…?”

– Francis Lee, Ammonite director

However, in a Twitter thread posted yesterday, Lee said that he had become aware of the “huge speculation” around the unfinished film, and said that critics know nothing about the project.

He said that the film “hasn’t even been made yet” and called on commentators to wait for the film to be released before casting judgement.

Ammonite director Francis Lee: Queer history is ‘routinely straightened’

“After seeing queer history be routinely ‘straightened’ throughout culture, and given a historical figure where there is no evidence whatsoever of a heterosexual relationship, is it not permissible to view that person within another context…?” Lee said.

“Particularly a woman whose work and life were subjected to the worst aspects of patriarchy, class discrimination and gender imbalance…

“As a working class, queer film maker, I continually explore the themes of class, gender, sexuality within my work, treating my truthful characters with utter respect and I hope giving them authentic respectful lives and relationships they deserve.

“As a working class, queer film maker, I continually explore the themes of class, gender, sexuality within my work.”

– Francis Lee, Ammonite director

“Would these newspaper writers have felt the need to whip up uninformed quotes from self proclaimed experts if the character’s sexuality had been assumed to be heterosexual?

“As film makers we try to make the best work possible and perhaps it would be better to wait until that work actually exists before assuming, presuming or critiquing what that work is and how it depicts its subjects and world.”

Ammonite tells the story of palaeontologist Mary Anning

Mary Anning made several important discoveries during her lifetime, but her gender and social status undermined her achievements in the eyes of Victorian society.

She never married and had various close friendships with women – however, there is no evidence that she was a lesbian.

Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan to play lesbian lovers in new film
Kate Winslet (L) (C Flanigan/Getty) and Saoirse Ronan (R) (Michael Loccisano/Getty).

This has led to some commentators – and descendants of the palaeontologist – criticising the project for speculating.

“I do not believe there is any evidence to back up portraying her as a gay woman.”

– Barbara Anning

In an online discussion quoted in The Telegraph, Anning’s distant niece, Barbara, 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?”

Similarly, she was quoted in the Daily Mail as saying that the lesbian storyline is “pure Hollywood” and said there was “no suggestion that she was a lesbian at all.”

Two other descendants have come forward to criticise the project.

Outcry ‘reads as homophobic’

However, palaeobiologist Sam Giles responded to the outcry by saying: “I doubt there would be this much outcry if the film featured Mary Anning in a heterosexual relationship (for which there also seems little evidence). I feel very uncomfortable with the amount of vitriol this has attracted. It may not be intentional but reads as homophobic.”

Francis Lee is the acclaimed director of God’s Own Country, which tells the story of a romantic relationship between two male farmers.

“Who’d have thought, when I was eight years old, I’d be kissing Rose one day and I’d get to fall in love with her on a beach?”

– Saoirse Ronan

Speaking to Sirius XM about the project, Saoirse Ronan said the women develop a “really beautiful, really intimate relationship” in the film and confirmed that they are lovers.

The Mary Queen of Scots star has expressed enthusiasm at acting opposite Winslet, who famously starred in Titanic, a film Ronan was obsessed with as a child.

“Who’d have thought, when I was eight years old, I’d be kissing Rose one day and I’d get to fall in love with her on a beach?” she told Irish entertainment channel Xposé in January.

More: ammonite, francis lee, Kate Winslet, Lesbian Film, lesbian romance, Mary Anning, saoirse ronan

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