director: francis lee (god's own country)
starring: kate winslet, saoirse ronan, gemma jones and Alec Secareanu
REVIEWER: lyall carter
1840s England, acclaimed but overlooked fossil hunter Mary Anning and a young woman sent to convalesce by the sea develop an intense relationship, altering both of their lives forever.
How, after all these years of superb, note perfect performances, has Saoirse Ronan never won an Oscar? It is as utterly baffling as why it took so long for her Ammonite co-star Kate Winslet to win one. Although Ammonite moves at a slow yet steady pace with a main character that is difficult to emotionally connect with, it is anchored by two outstanding performances from its two leading ladies.
In the 1840s, acclaimed self-taught palaeontologist Mary Anning works alone on the wild and brutal Southern English coastline of Lyme Regis. The days of her famed discoveries behind her, she now hunts for common fossils to sell to rich tourists to support herself and her ailing widowed mother. When one such tourist, Roderick Murchison, arrives in Lyme on the first leg of a European tour, he entrusts Mary with the care of his young wife Charlotte, who is recuperating from a personal tragedy.
Mary and Charlotte discover they can each offer what the other has been searching for: the realisation that they are not alone. It is the beginning of a passionate and all-consuming love affair that will defy all social bounds and alter the course of both lives irrevocably.
Although Ammonite only runs for two hours its narrative content and pacing along with its lack of deep, emotional investment in its central love story leaves it having some slightly dull moments. While it contains the lustful passion of Portrait of a Lady it doesn’t quite have its romantic zeal. Again, while at its centre is a same sex love story like Uncle Frank it doesn’t quite have its hopeful breeziness.
And that probably comes down to the character development of Winslet’s Anning. We are rarely let past her cold, glacial demeanour and while we understand in retrospect why she is this way it doesn’t allow us emotional access and in return connection with her character and her blossoming romance with Charlotte.
Ammonite isn't a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. It is instead a film filled with moments of treasure to be discovered from the intimate and intricate cinematography of the bleak sea coastline to the detailed costuming and production design. Ammonite also has a massive cinematic ace up its sleeve to play: Winslet and Ronan.
Even though there is very little we can emotionally connect with her character, Winslet manages to pull off the balance of an emotionally damaged and cold person without resorting to overacting. It is a masterful performance that you can only sit back and admire. Equally Ronan brings a stellar performance and is the beating heart of the film.
Although Ammonite moves at a slow yet steady pace with a main character that is difficult to emotionally connect with, it is anchored by two outstanding performances from its two leading ladies.