Ammonite: LFF Film Review

Ammonite

Ammonite received rave reviews following its premiere in Toronto so I had seriously high expectations for it – but I must admit I was underwhelmed by the whole thing.

Francis Lee‘s second feature stars Kate Winslet as Mary Anning, the real-life self-taught palaeontologist and fossil collector who lived in Lyme Regis in Dorset, England. The story is set in the 1840s when her days of famous discoveries are over and she sells the fossils she collects in a shop to get by. Geologist Roderick Murchison (James McArdle), a big fan, visits the area with his wife Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan) and pays Mary to let him join her on her coastal explorations. When he is called away, he asks Mary to look after Charlotte, who is grieving from a personal tragedy, and romance blossoms between the two very different women.

It goes without saying that the performances in Ammonite are amazing. Winslet and Ronan have multiple Oscar nominations (and a win for Winslet) to prove their talent so I assumed they would turn in impressive performances and they certainly didn’t disappoint. And it should also be noted that Fiona Shaw stands out Mary’s ex Elizabeth Philpot.

However, I didn’t buy their attraction or love for one another. Sure, the explicit sex scenes are passionate, but there is little passion elsewhere. I didn’t believe in their story and I wasn’t invested in it. I had no emotional connection to it and so it never moved me, which is clearly what the film is hoping to achieve. And that’s not the actresses’ fault – the story and the writing is weak and doesn’t earn this romance or make it convincing. Also, the film is very slow, felt longer than it was, it’s rather quiet as neither of them are particularly talkative, and also very dim as it’s trying to look candlelit.

My biggest issue with the story will be no surprise as it has already caused controversy already – why take a remarkable historical figure and make her the subject of a fictional lesbian romance? I didn’t know anything about Anning before Ammonite so I’m glad it brought her to my attention but I actually would have preferred to learn more about her, her discoveries, and contributions to science and palaeontology in a standard biopic than watch these imagined romance plot. It doesn’t go into much detail about her work and totally glosses over the work of Murchison and Philpot. Lee should have created a fictional character inspired by Anning. This route makes no sense to me.

I had high expectations from Lee because of his work on the powerful and moving God’s Own Country but sadly, Ammonite just didn’t do anything for me, despite its terrific lead performances.

Seen as part of the London Film Festival. No general release date as yet.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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