During one of the conversations series organized by the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) held at Toronto, Joana Vicente, Executive director and co-head of TIFF discusses 'Ammonite' with Francis Lee, director of the film starring Kate Winslet. IBNS Canada's special correspondent Asha Bajaj brings excerpts:
Joana to Francis: How did you come to know about Mary Anning and her real life that inspired you to write this story?
I started reading about Mary’s life after her name appeared several times on the internet while I was looking for a gift for my ex-boyfriend. I became obsessed with her class. gender and landscape. Born in poverty, with no formal education, she rose to be a leading paleontologist making incredible scientific discoveries in 19th century England’s patriarchal and class-driven society. I also discovered Mary's several passionate, emotional love letters written to her female friends. Being ambitious to explore same-sex relationships between the patriarchal class-driven society and Mary, who had been either totally overlooked by men or used by men for her scientific discoveries, I wanted to uplift her to a respectful status by giving her a deserving relationship with a woman.
So also in your previous film ‘God’s Own Country’, and now 'Ammonite' you focus on characters on the fringes of society, who fall in love with someone outside their social standings. What draws you to those stories and to have the class gap or difference there?
I mean like all the stories I was interested in are very personal to me. Coming from a working-class, and a man from the regions of the United Kingdom, I am myself still trying to figure out these relationships. Having learned that both Kate and Charlotte Murchison were friends, I felt that Charlotte would be a wonderful person to enact this relationship with Kate. Charlotte was also instructed by her husband Rodrigues to stay in Lyme Regis and work with Mary (played by Kate) so that she could become a better secretary for him. And then there is evidence that Mary went to London once and had stayed with the Murchisons. So all of these kinds of things collided and then became ‘Ammonite.’.
Would you like to talk a little about your process of working with your actors? I know that you did a long rehearsal.
I was blessed with Kate and Ronan for their commitment by starting to work about 4 months before the shoot, trying to explore every single minute detail about Mary. Kate believed that physical work was important to enable characters to inhabit their world, and committed herself to go to cold and wet beaches, climb up cliffs, and to do fossil hunting. Kate and Ronan had to learn to play the piano, to do tiny stitches under candlelight, not because I wanted them to do more work but I think these activities alter them and help them in embodying the characters emotionally, intellectually, and physically. Our efforts were to elevate these women, give them the status that they should have had when they were alive.
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