Ammonite director Francis Lee was told he shouldn’t tell lesbian stories

Patrick Kelleher
·2-min read

Ammonite director Francis Lee has said he was surprised when people told him that he shouldn’t tell lesbian stories.

The filmmaker, who directed 2017’s critically-acclaimed God’s Own Country, opened up about the pushback he faced when he announced that his second film would be a lesbian period drama starring Kate Winslet as palaeontologist Mary Anning.

Francis Lee told The Guardian that he was taken aback when he was told that he shouldn’t be telling lesbian stories because “there just aren’t that many queer working-class people in the film industry”.

“It’s been a real lesson for me in identity politics,” Lee said. “I know I can’t talk for Mary because I’m not a 19th-century palaeontologist, but I do think I can talk with her.

“What I tried to do was to take this working-class woman, who hadn’t been recognised in her lifetime, and elevate her. I wanted to contextualise her in terms of a relationship. And because men had blocked and overlooked her, and reappropriated her work for themselves, I felt that this relationship couldn’t be with a man.”

Lee also opened up about the backlash he faced from Anning’s descendants, and from some in the media, when he announced Ammonite as his sophomore film, with many criticising him for portraying the largely forgotten palaeontologist as a lesbian when there was no evidence that she was queer.

The director said he doesn’t understand why historic figures are presumed to be straight until proven otherwise, and insisted that Ammonite is not a biopic.

Francis Lee defended his ‘truthful’ Ammonite characters

Lee hit back against public criticism in 2019 as backlash mounted against his upcoming film.

Writing on Twitter at the time, Lee noted that Ammonite had attracted huge controversy despite the fact that it hadn’t even been made yet.

“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?” Lee wrote.

“Particularly a woman whose work and life were subjected to the worst aspects of patriarchy, class discrimination and gender imbalance.”

Lee went on to defend his “truthful” characters, saying he would treat them with “utter respect”.

Ammonite will be available to stream on digital platforms in the UK on 26 March.