Film Review: Ammonite (2020)

Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan deliver committed performances in Francis Lee’s Ammonite but the film rarely excites

“You know you can always ask me for help”

Francis Lee follows up the exceptional God’s Own Country with another story about hard labour in LGBTQ+ lives, this time focusing on the first letter of the acronym. Ammonite follows the life of 18th century fossil hunter Mary Anning, a woman working hard in her chosen field but stifled by Victorian attitudes which resulted in her discoveries being shown without any credit being given to her in her lifetime.

Lee couples this narrative of historical misogyny with a love story of his own making, a speculative romance that sees a growing connection build with Charlotte Murchison. Their ‘meet-cute’ comes at the behest of Murchison’s husband, a geologist wanting to learn from Anning’s practices and when he opts to take a trip away which conveniently coincides with his wife falling into a depression, a period of convalesence under Mary’s care in Lyme Regis is prescribed.

The slow burn of their relationship is filmed in a highly naturalistic manner, never losing sight of the physical toil that comes with beachcombing nor the emotional labour in being a lesbian at that time. And Winslet is excellent at portaying the forthrightness of this starkly uncompromising figure, unable or perhaps unwilling to cede territory even when the intentions of Saoirse Ronan’s Charlotte seem benign.

Overall though, Ammonite does suffer from a surfeit in the grimness of its spirit. Its inherent dourness is respectful and feels entirely correct but it does come at the cost of emotional resonance, there’s not much connection happening here. Gemma Jones, Fiona Shaw and Alec Secareanu impress in supporting roles but I largely remained unstirred.

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