Beautiful but underwhelming, Francis Lee’s sophomore feature keeps emotions under the lid, and not always for the better.
Dir. Francis Lee
2020 | UK | Drama/Romance | 117 mins | 1.85:1 | English & French
R21 (passed clean) for graphic sexuality, some graphic nudity and brief language
Cast: Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Jones
Plot: 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.
Awards: Nom. for Costume Design (BAFTA); Official Selection (Toronto)
International Sales: Pyramide
Subject Matter: Moderate – Connection, Depression
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
After the critical success of God’s Own Country (2017), it was surely exciting news back then to learn that writer-director Francis Lee was working on his sophomore feature, also with an LGBT theme, that would star Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan.
They are of course two of the most gifted actresses of their respective generations, entirely comfortable with period movies, and would surely sparkle in their costumes set against the sublime visuals of Lee’s world.
One thing’s for sure: Ammonite is beautiful to look at, set in a British seaside town, where Mary Anning (who’s famous in her field) collects fossilised rock specimens for research and archiving.
Winslet plays Mary as a socially and emotionally distant woman until Ronan’s melancholia-afflicted Charlotte Murchison pops into Mary’s modest shop-cum-home with her rich husband who’s a fan of her scientific work.
As you might have guessed, Ammonite is about connection and intimacy, between two women whose lives just need some rejuvenation through a necessary jolt of mutual affection.
Winslet and Ronan are good, but Lee’s narrative doesn’t tread new ground, nor does it offer a unique experience from a familiar story.
There’s little in Ammonite that makes us feel strongly about Mary and Charlotte—their emotions are often kept under the lid, and not always for the better.