Inspired by the life of paleontologist Mary Anning, Winslet and Ronan play two women who form an "intense and intimate relationship."
Credit: See-Saw Films

Having delivered one uplifting gay love story with his 2017 debut feature God's Own Country, director Francis Lee hopes his second movie helps audiences realize "the power of love; the power of a deep, intimate, human relationship; the power of touch; and hope." In the age of the coronavirus and self-isolation, the power of touch feels quite intense right now.

Ammonite, starring Oscar darlings Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, was announced as one of the 2020 Cannes Film Festival selections on Wednesday — even though the in-person gathering in France won't go on as planned this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During a recent interview with EW at the start of LGBTQ Pride Month, Lee briefly addressed the work, which he finished filming just before Hollywood was shuttered in the wake of worldwide lockdowns.

“I’m really excited about it," Lee says over Zoom. "It’s all completely finished. I was very lucky and finished it all before lockdown — just!"

The film, set in a small coastal town in the 1840s, is inspired by the life of fossil-collecting paleontologist Mary Anning (played by Winslet). "It’s not a biopic," Lee clarifies. "It’s just inspired by her life. I was incredibly lucky to work with Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, and they play two women who develop an intense and intimate relationship."

"I was very drawn to that period because of this wonderful research into same-sex female relationships of the period that are all very well documented with letters to each other, demonstrating wonderful, life-long, passionate, intense, emotional relationships," he continued. "And I was fascinated to set this film in a period that was totally patriarchal and where women were completely owned by their fathers or their husbands, and looking at how they live within that world, and also in a world where, at that time, the medical profession believed that women had no sexual-pleasure organs. So, the idea of two women actually in a relationship together was just not a thought anybody ever had within society."

Ultimately, Lee believes this story is about "hope." "It's a very hopeful film," he adds — which also very much defines God's Own Country.

With his first film, Lee told a love story between a closeted farmer, numbing his frustrations with alcohol and casual sex, and the Romanian migrant worker who comes to work on his family's property. "I was talking to Josh [O'Connor] and Alec [Secareanu] last week," Lee says of his two stars, "and I think all of us are still overwhelmed by the response from people with God's Own Country. The film came out in 2017 and it seems as popular now as it was then with people either re-watching it or people discovering it for the first time. And what's been incredible is the way in which people now see the film as part of their lives. Whether or not they go back to re-watch because they want to feel happy or they want to feel sad or they want to live within that relationship and those moments."

Now Neon, which previously released queer films Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Beach Rats, will release Ammonite in the U.S.

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