Directed by Francis Lee.
Starring Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Jones, James McArdle, Alec Secareanu and Fiona Shaw. Available on Demand from March 26th. 117 mins.
Mary Anning was one of this country's most important palaeontologists, scrambling across the rocks of Lyme Regis beach during the first half of the 19th century digging up fossils. Being a woman from a poor family and a religious dissenter, Victorian society didn't fully acknowledge her. So if she's looking down from heaven some 173 years after her death she'll no doubt be pleased to see her achievements recognised in a new film and discover that she was a lesbian.
Now, she may already have known that, having been there at the time. Or it may come as a bit of a shock to her. She might even be a tad put out by the suggestion, what with her being quite religious.
Is writer/ director Lee staking out a claim to be a very sombre 21st century Ken Russell? Back in his 70s heyday, Russell would make biopics of famous artists like Mahler/ Tchaikovsky/ Liszt that were cheerfully unrestrained by any notion of being based on their actual lives. With no husband and plenty of close female friends, Anning could well have been a lesbian, but it does smack of the old, wink wink nudge nudge "funny (s)he never married," innuendo that used to be directed at anyone who snubbed the conventions of matrimony.
Lee's second film is another tale of a brusque individual being humanised by a same-sex romance under dark foreboding skies, just like his début God's Own Country. Genders are swapped, the Dorset coast replaces the Yorkshire Dales but it has the same gruff exterior hiding a soft, simplistic centre. Anning's daily scramble to uncover fossils is disrupted when a London gentleman (McArdle) foists his sickly wife Charlotte Murchison (Ronan) on her as a kind of apprentice. Initial hostility is replaced by passion when she has to nurse Charlotte through an illness. The days were laborious and dull, but oh those ammonites.
Everybody involved throws themselves into this with frightful earnestness, which makes the sex scenes an absolute hoot. This being a British period drama I assume I was supposed to be learning something but there is only so much careful choreographed, high minded muff diving you can suppress your giggles for.