Updated On: February 19, 2024 by   Raghda Elsabbagh   Raghda Elsabbagh  

Seeking a cinematic gem that blends history, romance, and science in an enthralling narrative? It’s here where Ammonite (2020) unveils itself—a film inspired by the remarkable life of British fossil hunter Mary Anning. This blog is dedicated to unfolding the mesmerising tale of affection between two women within the confines of 19th-century England’s palaeontological marvels. Prepare yourself for an exploration into this queer period drama; it promises to be a pretty intriguing journey!

Plot Summary of Ammonite

Ammonite Trailer

Ammonite is a 2020 romantic drama directed by Francis Lee. The film is a fictionalised account inspired by the life of the 19th-century British palaeontologist Mary Anning. Starring Kate Winslet as Mary Anning and Saoirse Ronan as Charlotte Murchison, the story is set in the 1840s in the coastal town of Lyme Regis, England.

The film begins with Mary Anning, a renowned but overlooked palaeontologist, struggling to make ends meet by selling fossils to tourists. Mary is a solitary figure, deeply engrossed in her work and emotionally guarded. 

A wealthy and grieving woman, Charlotte Murchison, arrives in Lyme Regis with her husband, Roderick Murchison, a geologist. Roderick seeks Mary’s expertise in palaeontology, but due to his frail health, he leaves Charlotte in Mary’s care.

Initially, Mary and Charlotte clash due to their contrasting personalities and backgrounds. However, as they spend more time together, they develop a deep and unexpected connection. The film explores themes of love, self-discovery, and societal expectations. Mary’s tough exterior begins to crack as she opens up emotionally to Charlotte, who grapples with her identity and purpose.

The relationship between Mary and Charlotte evolves into a passionate romance, challenging the norms of their time. As they navigate the complexities of their feelings, societal expectations, and personal conflicts, the film delves into the constraints placed on women in the 19th century.

Mary Anning Biography

Mary Anning Biography

Mary Anning, born on 21 May 1799, in Lyme Regis, Dorset, England, was a pioneering British palaeontologist who made significant contributions to understanding prehistoric life during the early 19th century. 

Raised in a family of fossil collectors, Anning’s fascination with fossils and keen observational skills led to the discovery of numerous important specimens along the Jurassic Coast’s fossil-rich cliffs. In 1811, at 12, she unearthed the first complete Ichthyosaurus skeleton, a remarkable find that brought her widespread recognition in scientific circles. Over the years, Anning discovered numerous fossils, including the first British Plesiosaurus in 1823 and the first British Pterosaur specimen in 1828.

Despite her lack of formal education and being a woman in a male-dominated field, Anning’s meticulous work and contributions drew the attention of leading scientists, including geologists and palaeontologists. Her findings significantly contributed to understanding extinct species, extinction events, and the emerging field of palaeontology. Mary Anning passed away on 9 March 1847, leaving a lasting legacy as a trailblazing figure in the history of paleontology.

This captivating storyline will surely appeal to history buffs and nature lovers, offering a unique perspective on one of science’s unsung heroes.

What Does It Mean That Ammonite Is a Queer Period Drama?

Ammonite is a queer period drama as it takes creative liberties and presents a fictionalised account inspired by the life of Mary Anning. The film explores a romantic relationship between Mary Anning and a fictional character, Charlotte Murchison. This portrayal can be seen as a form of queering history, as it introduces a romantic storyline between two women that may not have been historically accurate.

The term “queering history” is often used to describe the reinterpretation or reimagining of historical figures and events through a queer lens, acknowledging the presence and contributions of LGBTQ+ individuals in history. 

In the case of Ammonite, the film introduces a queer narrative into the life of Mary Anning, offering a perspective that aligns with contemporary discussions on representation and inclusivity in storytelling. While the film takes creative liberties for dramatic purposes, you should be aware that the romantic relationship portrayed in Ammonite is not grounded in historical evidence about Mary Anning’s personal life.

Historical Context of Ammonite

Was life in Victorian England actually that bad?

Apart from Mary Anning’s biography, Ammonite (2020) delves into the themes of Victorian sexuality. The film explores the complexities and restrictions surrounding love and desire during that time period. It offers a glimpse into the forbidden relationships and hidden desires that existed behind closed doors.

By focusing on the intense relationship between Mary Anning and Charlotte Murchison, Ammonite challenges societal norms and sheds light on an overlooked part of history. Through their passionate connection, the film showcases the power of love to transcend societal expectations in a time when such relationships were not openly acknowledged or accepted.

As a history buff, you’ll appreciate how the film captures the essence of Victorian England, from its elegant costumes to its picturesque landscapes. The attention to detail transports you back in time, allowing you to experience life during this era. Ammonite paints a vivid picture of 19th-century England through beautiful cinematography and set design.

What is the Setting of Ammonite?

Ammonite is primarily set in the coastal town of Lyme Regis, located in Dorset, England, during the 1840s. The movie’s setting plays a pivotal role in shaping the film’s plot in several ways:

  • Geographical and Geological Significance: Lyme Regis is renowned for its fossil-rich cliffs. The geological landscape of the town becomes a crucial aspect of the film’s narrative, influencing Mary’s profession, who spends her days searching for fossils on the rocky shores.
  • Isolation and Solitude: The coastal setting contributes to the sense of isolation and solitude experienced by Mary Anning. The vast, windswept landscapes mirror Mary’s emotional state, emphasising her loneliness and challenges as a woman in a male-dominated field.
  • Social Expectations: The conservative and traditional atmosphere of the Victorian era is palpable in the small-town setting. This historical setting immerses viewers in a period filled with cultural norms and societal expectations, which shape the characters’ behaviours and choices. The setting becomes a restrictive force, particularly for the female characters, highlighting their challenges in expressing their true selves.
  • Romantic Atmosphere: The rugged and picturesque coastal setting adds a romantic and atmospheric quality to the film. The rocky cliffs, the sound of the crashing waves, and the natural beauty of the surroundings create a visually captivating backdrop for the evolving relationship between Mary Anning and Charlotte Murchison.

Cast and Crew of Ammonite

Ammonite’s highly acclaimed cast and crew include British actresses Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, with direction by Francis Lee.

Kate Winslet

Ammonite - Kate-Winslet

In Ammonite, released in 2020, Kate Winslet delivers a compelling performance as Mary Anning, a pioneering 19th-century palaeontologist. Winslet skilfully embodies the complexity of Mary’s character, portraying her strength, emotional vulnerability, and resilience in the face of societal constraints. Her on-screen chemistry with Saoirse Ronan adds authenticity to the evolving relationship between Mary and Charlotte. Winslet’s physicality, emotional range and contribution to depicting the historical context earned her critical acclaim and nominations, making her portrayal of Mary Anning a standout aspect of the film.

Saoirse Ronan

Ammonite - Saoirse Ronan
Saoirse Ronan

Saoirse Ronan delivers a compelling performance in Ammonite, portraying the character of Charlotte Murchison with subtlety and depth. As a grieving and conflicted woman in 19th-century England, Ronan skilfully navigates Charlotte’s emotional journey. 

Her on-screen chemistry with Kate Winslet’s Mary Anning is crucial in the film, adding authenticity to the unconventional romance that unfolds. Ronan brings nuance to Charlotte’s internal struggles, capturing the societal expectations of the time and the complexities of self-discovery. In her role, Ronan contributes to the film’s exploration of love, identity, sexuality, and the constraints imposed on women during the Victorian era. The performances of Winslet and Ronan have been widely praised, adding depth and emotion to this captivating film.

Francis Lee

Ammonite (2020) was directed by Francis Lee, a talented filmmaker known for his exceptional storytelling style. With this film, Lee brings to life the captivating love story between acclaimed palaeontologist Mary Anning and Charlotte Murchison.

Known for his focus on character-driven narratives, Lee adeptly captures the emotional nuances of the central characters. Lee’s direction effectively utilises the atmospheric coastal setting of Lyme Regis, emphasising both the physical and emotional landscapes that shape the characters. Through careful guidance, he beautifully blends elements of romance and history to create an intense and thought-provoking narrative. You will be captivated by Lee’s direction and his ability to explore complex themes, such as Victorian sexuality, through the lens of these remarkable characters.

Reception and Awards

Ammonite received a positive critical response and was nominated for various awards.

Positive Critical Response

Ammonite (2020) received positive critical response from both audiences and reviewers. The film’s beautiful portrayal of the intense relationship between Mary and Charlotte Murchison captivated viewers. The film’s atmospheric score and period-accurate production design contribute to its immersive storytelling.

Critics praised the performances of Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan for their compelling chemistry on screen and their nuanced portrayal of complex characters. Winslet embodies Mary’s strength and vulnerability, while Ronan brings depth to Charlotte’s internal conflicts. 

The blending of love and scientific exploration in the storytelling was highly acclaimed. The film explores the challenges faced by women in the scientific community during the Victorian era, shedding light on Mary Anning’s contributions to palaeontology and her struggles for recognition.

Nominated for Various Awards

Ammonite (2020) has received recognition through nominations for several awards. The film’s powerful storytelling, captivating performances by Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, and Francis Lee’s skilful direction have all been applauded by critics.

This recognition highlights the impact that Ammonite has had on audiences and its importance as a groundbreaking work in the genre of queer period romance. This film offers a compelling cinematic experience that delves into themes of love, science, and Victorian sexuality.

Is Ammonite Rated R?

Yes, Ammonite is rated R. The R rating is typically assigned to films that contain material that may be unsuitable for children under 17 years old. In the case of Ammonite, the R rating is likely due to mature content, including scenes of intimacy and possibly strong language. 

In summary, Ammonite (2020) is an impactful film that sheds light on the life of Mary Anning, a pioneering fossil hunter. Through its portrayal of her intense relationship with Charlotte Murchison, the film challenges traditional narratives and explores themes of love, sexuality, and scientific discovery against the backdrop of 19th-century England. With its powerful performances and thought-provoking storyline, Ammonite leaves a lasting impression on audiences.

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