The director of a film about fossil hunter Mary Anning, which stars Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, has defended its gay storyline.
Ammonite sees Anning (Winslet) in a romance with Ronan’s character.
In real life, Anning never married and little is known about her private life. Some have questioned the gay storyline.
But director Francis Lee tweeted he thought it was appropriate “after seeing queer history be routinely ‘straightened’ throughout culture”.
“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…?”
The Telegraph quoted a member of Anning’s family, Barbara Anning, who 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?”
Lee tweeted his response to “huge speculation about my new film and the ‘controversial’ flames that have been fanned on a slow ‘news’ story day by newspapers and columnists who haven’t read my script or know anything about my film”.
“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?” he asked.
The Mail reported Barbara Anning telling them that the ‘the lesbian storyline is pure Hollywood”.
Filming started last week on the Jurassic coast.
Lee, who directed the critically acclaimed God’s Own Country, described his characters as “truthful”:
“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.”
Anning is referred to as the “unsung hero of fossil discovery” by the Natural History Museum.
She was born in 1799 in Lyme Regis to a poor family and had little education. But she pioneered the field of palaeontology with her groundbreaking fossil finds and for a long time she was overlooked by the history books.
Mary Anning Rocks, a group set up to campaign for the creation of a statue of Anning in Lyme Regis, has welcomed the film.
The group said they had confidence that Francis Lee “wouldn’t create a story that did not have heart & respect for Mary”.