‘Ammonite’ movie review: Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan’s forbidden romance flatters to deceive

By | June 1, 2021

Director Francis Lee brings a meditative beauty to his second feature, that will remain fascinating for its spirit of inquiry

There is a meditative beauty about Ammonite, which could prove soothing or distant depending on your frame of mind. The eternally dependable Kate Winslet plays Mary Anning (1799-1847), a palaeontologist whose fossil discoveries in Lyme, Dorset challenged the theories of extinction. Mary lives with her ailing mother, Molly (Gemma Jones) scoring the coast for fossils which she sells at a shop attached to the house.

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One day a geologist, Roderick Murchison (James McArdle), visits Mary’s shop and asks for a private tour of the coast where she gets her fossils. Though initially reluctant, she agrees. When Murchison has to leave for the continent, he asks Mary to watch over his wife, Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan) who has been ordered to take the sea air to recover from illness and depression.

Those Mary bristles with annoyance, she agrees and when Charlotte falls ill with fever, Mary nurses her to health. A bond is formed between the two women. As a love story, Ammonite does not work, as despite the excellent acting skills of both Winslet and Ronan, there seems to be no chemistry between the two, despite frantic fumblings, grapplings and moans.

Ammonite

  • Director: Francis Lee
  • Cast: Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Jones, James McArdle, Alec Secăreanu, Fiona Shaw
  • Duration: 120 minutes
  • Storyline: A speculative love story between British palaeontologist Mary Anning and geologist Charlotte

The depiction of Anning’s sexuality attracted its share of naysayers who insisted there is no proof that Anning was lesbian. Director Francis Lee’s rebuttal, “After seeing queer history be routinely ‘straightened’ throughout culture, and given a historical figure where there is no evidence whatsoever of a heterosexual relationship, is it not permissible to view that person within another context?”, makes sense. Look what they did to Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. Choosing to making Charlotte just a geologist’s wife when she was a geologist in her own right is odd.

I found Ammonite fascinating for its spirit of inquiry; for the thought of the Ichthyosaurs and Plesiosaurus writhing in the Jurassic sea while the pterosaur soared shrieking at the cliffs. We have cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine to thank for that. Incidentally Ammonites are a group of extinct marine mollusc and mainly what Anning finds on her morning searches of the coast. Another bit of unconfirmed trivia is Anning is the source of our childhood tongue-twister, “She sells seashells on the seashore.”

The love that cannot be named does not unfortunately burn brighter than these dino-thrills and sundry bits of trivia.

Ammonite is currently streaming on BookMyShow stream

 

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