THERE hasn't been this much excitement in Lyme Regis for 38 years.

That was back in 1980 when the French Lieutenant's Woman was filmed in the sleepy west Dorset seaside town.

Once Hollywood stars descended on Lyme to film the acclaimed movie of John Fowles' book - which went on earn five Oscar nominations following its release in 1981 - the town earned its place in film history.

The iconic image of Meryl Streep as the cowled figure on the Cobb still sticks in the mind today and town residents are hoping the legacy of Ammonite, a movie on the life of fossil hunter Mary Anning, will be just as enduring.

Filming began on Ammonite, starring Oscar winner Kate Winslet as Anning and three-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan, earlier this month.

Early signs are that the Francis Lee-directed film will be even more of a love letter to west Dorset than the French Lieutenant's Woman was.

A little known fact is that the famous scene where Streep, as the lovelorn Sarah, turns around to face the camera wasn't actually filmed on the Cobb - it was recreated under controlled conditions at Shepperton Studios. The film's art director was actually Streep's stand-in for the location part of the film on the Cobb itself.

Ammonite, which follows an intense relationship between the unmarried Anning and Charlotte Murchison, played by Ronan, has already made use of west Dorset's wild beaches and Lyme's historical Broad Street.

Kate, Saoirse and co-star Fiona Shaw, known for Killing Eve and the Harry Potter films, have already been seen filming at Bell Cliff Stairs, off Broad Street.

Other on-location shoots have been done at nearby Eype Beach and Charmouth Beach.

Whilst the town shoot attracted crowds, the beach shoots attracted just the interest of some bemused dog walkers, a local photographer said.

Graham Hunt said the first day of filming in Lyme attracted many starstruck fans, but, aside from a woman talking loudly on a phone who was told to be quiet by the crew, a hushed awe fell over the crowd as A-lister Kate, in character as Anning, made her way up and down the steps for a scene.

"Lots of people were hoping to get a glimpse of Kate," he said.

A film fan from Bridport said there was 'lots of excitement' in Lyme Regis at having a A-lister in town filming.

"People were trying to take pictures of Kate Winslet but she was hiding behind the pillar with her back to the crowd between takes. There was one instance where a bus driver beeped a horn and they had to start again," she said.

The film crew then moved to Eype Beach, which was chosen for its secluded nature.

Freelance photographer Graham said: "They were filming there for about two hours. All their vehicles were parked at Bridport Football Club when they went down and I was the only photographer there.

"Saoirse and Kate were filming a scene where they were enjoying a picnic and Kate as Mary Anning was eating a pasty. They sat next to each other and walked along the beach together and sat on rocks.

"There was lots of stopping and starting. Between the filming they would be talking to the director. I never really saw Saoirse and Kate sitting together. Between takes they sat on the rock with a coat around them to keep warm.The weather was very blowy."

The filming then moved on to the less isolated beach of Charmouth, where the filmmaker's attention to detail for local history became apparent. A bathing machine prop was brought to the water's edge with the name Three Cups Hotel painted on the side. This famous Lyme Regis hotel, now closed, once housed the likes of literary greats such as Jane Austen and JRR Tolkien.

Graham said this beach scene was much busier than that at Eype.

"There were more people there, lots of extras and people picking up the bathing machines. There were quite a lot of people further down the beach watching what was going on, people milling around and the usual dog walkers who were there asking me what was going on."

Graham said he thinks the release of Ammonite, much like the French Lieutenant's Woman, will enhance Lyme Regis's appeal to visitors. Tourists flocked to West Bay after the detective drama Broadchurch starring Olivia Colman was screened on ITV.

"Anything like this is good for the area. Especially when the film comes out. I think we'll see the Broadchurch effect in Lyme Regis," Graham said.

And with filming recently moving to the Cobb, Kate was photographed getting out of her car on the way to the harbour to meet schoolchildren from Lyme St Michael's Primary School.

Ammonite has already generated numerous column inches in the national press about its same sex relationship storyline.

But a campaigner fighting for a statue of pioneering palaeontologist Anning in the town says the movie will do 'wonders' for putting Mary Anning and her scientific achievements in the spotlight.

Anya Swire, of the Mary Anning Rocks campaign (, said: "I always quote Oscar Wilde - 'There's only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.' The film is going to do wonders for her."

In 1811 Anning uncovered a 16ft fossil of an Ichthyosaurus. She also made other major finds, including plesiosaurs and pterosaurs.

Anya said: "Not many people understand Mary Anning's life. She was working class and she hasn't had much published about her life and memories. The publicity through the film is great. It's good publicity, full stop, end of story.

"When I think of the amount of tourism and excitement generated by the French Lieutenant's Wife and that was back in the 80s and even now people are still talking about it and the author and the fact that he lived there, I can't see anything but good coming from this film. It's a brilliant opportunity to get what Mary Anning achieved out there."

And Anya, who has been championing Anning for years, couldn't be happier with the casting.

"I don't think there could be a better choice for someone to play Mary Anning - I think Kate Winslet is an amazing actor.

"One of my favourite films is The Reader, I think she's got the depth as an actor to do the character of Mary Anning justice. With Saoirse too they have a fantastic cast."

And with more filming due to be done in Lyme Regis later this month, Lyme - and its most famous resident - are ready to step into the spotlight.