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Biopic to highlight life of Mary Anning

A feature film is to be made about pioneering palaeontologist Mary Anning.

The fossil hunter made numerous important contributions to science, arising from her lifelong exploration of the Jurassic Coast in Dorset.

Many of her fossil finds are on display at the Museum, and they helped change the way scientists think about prehistoric species.

The life of Mary Anning

Mary was born 1799 in Lyme Regis, on England's southwest coast. This area has always been a treasure trove of prehistoric fossils.

The first articulated plesiosaur ever found

This is the first articulated plesiosaur ever found and one of Mary Anning's greatest discoveries. It is 2.9 meters long and was found in Lyme Regis, Dorset.


Mary's father taught her the art of fossiling when she was young. After his death in 1811, Mary's mother Molly encouraged fossil hunting and selling to pay off the family's debts.

It didn't take long for Mary to start unearthing some spectacular finds. By the age of 13, she and her brother had found the first Ichthyosaurus specimen, a marine reptile from the Early Jurassic Period.

She became well known in the scientific world for her discovery of the first articulated plesiosaur, a long-necked marine reptile, in 1823, and a flying pterosaur in 1828.

By the time she died in 1847, she had become well respected in the scientific community of the day, and had supported the work of many notable contemporaries. Her finds came in an era when scientists were beginning to question religious explanations of the world and examine the concept of geological time.

Mary was given an annual payment by the Geological Society of London in recognition for her work, but was not allowed to become a member because she was a woman. Many of Mary's discoveries found their way into collections without credit being given to her.

Anning on screen

The new film, called Mary Anning and the Dinosaur Hunters, will be a two-part biopic exploring Mary's life and work. It is written, directed and produced by Sharon Sheehan, a filmmaker and keen fossiler.

Katharine Hamilton will play the young Mary, with Sharon herself taking over to portray Mary in adulthood.

Jenny Agutter - of the Avengers, An American Werewolf in London and Call the Midwife - will play Mary's mentor Elizabeth Philpot.

Sharon says, 'I have been transfixed by Mary Anning's story for years, her plight and the fact that she was not accepted into the Geological Society by the men of her time. She was also not permitted to write papers on her finds, which were generally plagiarized by contemporary eminent male scientists. 

'I was struck by the fact that Mary was barely in the history books, or credited with most of her discoveries or extensive research. She remained practically unknown, marginalized and for the most part bypassed by history.'

Sharon has spent most of her life interested in fossils and paleontology, and is passionate about highlighting the work of Mary Anning for a global audience.

The film poster

Mary Anning and the Dinosaur Hunters is in production on the Dorset coast. Photography by Andrew Blackmore © Mermade Films


Sharon says, 'As a young child I fossiled with my brother.  We were obsessed with fossiling, dinosaurs and prehistory.

'We once found a mammoth tooth, and one day a huge ammonite embedded in a large boulder in a brook. Another day it was a fossilised oyster called a gryphaea on our walk back from school. We loved to read books on prehistory and made my brother's room a prehistoric utopia, with ferns and dinosaur paintings on the walls.

'Another inspiration - one that I believe eventually led to the writing and making of the film - was a school trip to the Natural History Museum. 

'I remember the emotion of seeing the tremendous towering structure of this building dedicated to science, and the sight of the spectacular Diplodocus, and the great blue whale. I remember voraciously scanning the displays and absorbing natural history in all its magnificence.'

When will the film be ready?

Sharon has nearly finished shooting the first film, tracing Mary's childhood. She is fundraising for the second, which will cover Mary's adulthood and her most famous fossil finds.

There are also plans to create a scientifically accurate documentary, to be made available free of charge for educational purposes.

Sharon is looking to businesses and doing community fundraising to raise the money for the second film, which she hopes to complete by summer 2018.