Ammonite stars Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan in this intimate story of female love.
Kate Winslet plays Mary Anning, which history remembers for her discoveries and collections of fossils embedded in the beaches and cliffs of the English coastal town of Lyme Regis. While the Victorian craze for fossils has since ended by the time that Ammonite is set, Mary is still known for her discoveries in the scientific societies of London, none of which she is permitted to join. She begins the film spending her days trudging along the coastline in search of fossils to clean and sell to tourists in order to support her ailing mother (Gemma Jones).
This insular existence is disrupted at the arrival of Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan), left in Lime Regis to recover from a bout of ‘mild melancholia’ while her husband tours Europe. Winslet portrays Mary with a harshness born out of past grief and self-dependence, her flinty reserve immediately in conflict with the Victorian femininity of Charlotte, performed by Ronan with the initial listlessness of a woman lost at sea. Yet gradually, as Mary’s hard edges are sanded down, the film offers a tender portrait of Victorian sexuality and love, tinged with sadness and loneliness.
This is the second feature from director Francis Lee, whose previous film God’s Own Country, a brutal yet beautiful romance between two brusque male farmers on the Yorkshire Dales garnered critical praise. In Ammonite, his directorial style is evident, in a poignant ability to convey distinct characters through minimal dialogue. This is also assisted in costume, hair and makeup design, where both Mary’s sleet coloured messy hair and Charlotte’s soft blonde curls draw the eye in different ways.
Despite some slow-moving scenes, the long stretches of silence prove a firm reliance in the abilities of two of the most acclaimed actors of their respective generations. Indeed, what Winslet and Ronan convey in body language, many would find difficult via multiple pages of dialogue.
Ammonite is aptly named after the spiral shaped fossils excavated by Mary Anning. The film is structured in a similar way, its shape and beauty slowly unfurled into a beautiful and delicate portrayal of female love and sexuality.
Reviewed by Gina Cameron.
Ammonite opens today.