When the trailer for Ammonite dropped earlier this fall, eager fans were quick to herald it as the second coming of Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Both are foreign films, share seaside settings, and center on a lesbian romance. However, unlike the fictional characters in Portrait, Ammonite's Mary Anning actually existed in real life. Albeit with a few key differences from how she's portrayed in the film.
Ammonite focuses on the story of Mary Anning (Kate Winslet), a somewhat reclusive paleontologist who resides on the coast of England. She's widely respected in her field, which is how she comes to meet Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan), after her husband sends her to apprentice with Mary in hopes of curing her "melancholia." Through their working relationship, Anning and Murchison become close, and eventually develop a romantic connection.
Much of Anning's portrayal in Ammonite is fairly accurate, according to New Scientist. Anning was a trailblazing paleontologist who spent her life digging up fossils from the Jurassic period on the English coast. Her discoveries helped inspire an interest in the field of fossil study, and her work in uncovering the Plesiosaur in 1823 is on display in London's Natural History Museum.
However, while Anning's work is accurately represented, her personal affairs are more hotly contested. As The Smithsonian Magazine explains, Anning never had any notable romantic pursuits and she was never wed. (Murchison was merely a longtime friend of Anning's, per New Scientist.) Ammonite's portrayal of Anning as queer has been controversial amongst critics who harped on the film for its supposed historical inaccuracies. But, as The Smithsonian Magazine also notes, there isn't enough evidence to suggest what Anning's true sexual orientation may have been.
Ammonite's director, Francis Lee, took to Twitter to respond to the criticism surrounding his depiction of Anning's sexuality. “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?” He added: “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?”