The latest entry in the windswept historical lesbian romance genre is no less anticipated for being on-trend.
The first trailer is out for lesbian period drama/biopic Ammonite and the gay movie Mad Libs almost write themselves. Portrait of a Lady on Fire, in England, with fossils!
Admittedly, Ammonite, starring Hollywood’s favourite screen queer Saoirse Ronan (Little Women) opposite Kate Winslet (you know, Kate Winslet), is moody and romantic with plenty of long dresses billowing on windswept beaches. It’s also about a talented white woman who doesn’t conform to feminine norms, falling for her beautiful but “melancholy” assigned companion: a second white woman who’s keen to escape her tragic attachment to a man – representing the heteronormative society of bygone days which looks set to make sure our two lovers must eventually part. The comparisons to Céline Sciamma’s Portrait (2019), which swept cinemas and awards shows last year, are pretty unavoidable.
Ammonite has a lot going for it on its own. Its historical inspiration, Mary Anning, is a fascinating figure who found and identified fossils that became crucial to palaeontology at a time when science was a hobby for wealthy men who liked naming things after themselves. It’s a shame it’s scheduled for release when Portrait is still fresh in audiences’ minds. Director Francis Lee has a history of nailing the sweeping gay love story: his feature debut God’s Own Country (2017), a romance between two men set on the wild Yorkshire moors, suffered comparisons to Brokeback Mountain (2005) simply by being the only vaguely similar movie to be widely released in those 12 years.
After what feels like the seventy-fifth Jane Austen remake, it’s refreshing to see our stories told in the same addictive language of lush costumes and polite tension. Gentleman Jack (2019), The Favourite (2018), Summerland (2020) and more have set a trend for stories of queer women living and loving in historical settings – which is great, because they sure did and everyone should know about it. But dwelling on stories without a happily ever after doesn’t leave space for the queer women of the past who spent their lives together – like the Ladies of Llangollen, who ran away from Ireland to set up the ultimate cottage-core lifestyle in Wales in the late 1700s. The film industry often leans on period settings to excuse all-white casting choices, with the recent exception of Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s turn in Summerland as Gemma Arterton’s (short-lived) love interest. And a trend of stories where lovers are separated by the strict demands of historical heteronormativity lets us conveniently forget that not everything is yet gravy for today’s lesbians and queer women.
On the other hand, Ammonite is part of a Cambrian explosion of queer media we’ve been waiting on for decades. It will be flawed because everything is, but as a community we have a long way to go before we have at least as many sweeping, cinematic, samey period dramas as the straights have ever had – and we deserve them all. Also, to be clear: this movie features Jo March making out with Rose DeWitt-Bukater, and we deserve that too.
Ammonite will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11 and will premiere in the UK on October 17 as part of the BFI London Film Festival.