“The greatest fossilist the world ever knew” was the title given to Mary Anning, a self-taught English palaeontologist born in 1799.
She was a woman living in a man’s England, therefore not eligible to be a member of the Geographical Society of London where her finds were often credited to men.
This is the second feature film written and directed by Francis Lee (God’s Own Country). Little is known about Mary’s personal life, other than she was a fossil collector and dealer who was not married. She discovered the first specimen of Ichthyosaurus (now in the British Museum) when she was 11 years old.
Mary (Kate Winslet, Titanic) is a woman of calm self-assurance who lives a lonely existence with her taciturn mother (Gemma Jones. Harry Potter series) in Lyme Regis on the Southern coast. She spends her days collecting rocks from the beach and unstable cliffs searching for the fossils that she and her mother sell to tourists in their shop – along with seashell covered mirrors and boxes.
Their lives are interrupted by a visit from wealthy fellow palaeontologist Roderick Murchison (James McArdie) and his nearly silent wife Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan) who he says suffers from mild melancholia after a miscarriage.
Roderick offers to pay Mary to show him how she identifies ammonites (fossils with a resemblance to rams horns from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods). Later he asks her to have Charlotte stay and be cared for while he travels out of the country for an unspecified amount of time, but around six weeks. In spite of the inconvenience to Mary and her mother, the money is a welcome addition to their meagre funds.
The two women are dominated or ignored by men and are deprived of affection. They eventually develop a close friendship. A touch turns into a goodnight kiss, which explodes into explicit and passionate love making (in scenes choreographed by the actors).
Award winning Kate Winslet has sparse dialogue in this controlled performance of almost non-verbal acting, and Saoirse Ronan’s performance contrasts with her girlish innocence and repressed sexual desires. The two complement each other. The very slow pace of the film in the beginning adds to the feeling of loneliness of women trapped in a society dominated by men.
Now showing at Luna Leederville. (Check Luna SX, Luna Outdoor and Camelot Outdoor for possible other venues and dates).
Watch the trailer…