No one knows if Mary Anning had lovers. But what a new film does get right is the vital role women played in her life
The furore over a film portraying the 19th-century palaeontologist Mary Anning as having a female lover probably tells us more about ourselves than it does about historical accuracy onscreen. Francis Lee’s Ammonite might not be a scrupulously backed-up biopic, but it may just hit on the one thing that so many other accounts of Anning, and other early women in science, have missed: the importance of friendships and collaborations.
Anning, the working-class woman whose fossil discoveries changed the world, and a modern-day icon for women in science, is once again making news. This time, however, it’s not the ancient creatures she unearthed causing the stir. Kate Winslet will play her in the new movie, and her fellow actor Saoirse Ronan has confirmed that it tells a love story between Anning and her own character, Frances Bell. Cue media frenzy, with plenty of opportunity for outrage over (presumed) historical inaccuracy and claims of sexing-up an already remarkable biography, alongside salacious delight at the thought of a lesbian love affair amid the Lias.