MA, 117 minutes

Unsung heroines are experiencing a great run at the moment. Maybe it’s the #MeToo movement. Maybe it’s simply the fact that their time has come.

For the British fossil hunter, Mary Anning, all trace of acclaim seems to have come and gone during her lifetime with such speed that she had virtually no time to enjoy it. She lived in the Victorian era and made important palaeontological discoveries, braving the harsh extremes of Dorset’s winters to scrape at the rocks bordering its coves and beaches. Hoping to add to the pre-history of the reptiles and fish that once lived there, she came across fossilised remains that eventually made their way into the British Museum, but more often than not credit went to a palaeontologist who was both more eminent and male.

Writer-director Francis Lee’s film about Anning (Kate Winslet) is out to set her reputation to rights but these efforts are eventually upstaged by love. Straying from the scant store of facts recorded about Anning’s personal life, Lee gives her a love affair with Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan), who is known to have been her friend and patron. In this version, Charlotte is promoted to being the love of her life, as Mary is of hers.

Anning’s fortunes are at a low ebb when they meet. The scientific establishment has grown bored with the novelty of a young working-class woman who is also a self-taught palaeontologist and she and her mother are scratching a living from the fossils they sell in their tiny shop in Lyme Regis.

Kate Winslet (left) and Saoirse Ronan play lovers in Ammonite.

It is here that Mary and Charlotte come together. Charlotte, much younger, is suffering the psychological after-effects of a miscarriage and her pompous husband (James McArdle), impatient with the pace of her recovery, pays a reluctant Mary to watch over her while he goes travelling. And during the following months, the women gradually fall for one another although everything conspires against them – from the gruff hostility that Mary displays initially to their differences in financial and social status.

Lee offers a traditional, sepia-tinted view of the past with colours muted to reflect the toughness of the climate in which Mary goes about her work, but the sense of conviction in the performances and candour and tenderness of the love scenes erase any sense of the implausible. They might not do away with all your reservations – especially if Peter Morgan’s work on The Crown has increased your qualms about melding historical fact with fiction. But Lee did persuade me that this was a love that might have been. And a happy love, at that.

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