She sells seashells by the seashore : a feature film script

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Mary Arming was a working class woman from Lyme Regis, southwest England, (1799 - 1847) who became a major figure in palaeontology. In fact the science historian Stephen Jay Gould (1992) asserts that she was ‘probably the most important unsung (or inadequately sung) collecting force in the history of palaeontology... She directly found, or pointed the way to, nearly every specimen of importance.’ In the film script I tell the Mary Arming story, using her life as a basis from which to explore the life of a character whose unique intelligence and determination overcame multiple obstacles in her quest for knowledge about fossils and their implications for the theory of the origin of the world. The film also explores the social and intellectual climate of the time. This was a period of great excitement and turbulence where people were extremely disturbed by the implications of fossil discoveries. These discoveries raised real questions about the validity of the bible, which until then had been seen as a true historical account of the earth’s history. The discoveries of people like Mary, brought on nothing short of an intellectual revolution, which logically concluded in Darwin’s theory. The early nineteenth century was a time of great ferment, controversy and excitement as people grappled with the mysteries of deep time and the earth’s origins and the conflict with religion that brought. This film also deals with the complexities of a working class woman who participates as an equal with her social superiors and all the contradictions that raises as well as exploring the emotional landscape of someone who dared to live outside of the social norms of the day. The exegesis discusses the research and writing challenges of making a compelling narrative about Mary’s life in two hours of film time when the huge amount of material researched over a period of years could have easily filled a book. It explores the issues raised by turning such a large and complex story into a feature film, the place for factual accuracy and the need above all, to compress and streamline the narrative to service the film form while still honouring the emotional and dramatic truth of Mary Arming’s life.
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