VOD film review: Ammonite
James R | On 26, Mar 2021
Director: Francis Lee
Cast: Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan
Francis Lee follows up God’s Own Country with this tender, quiet portrait of palaeontologist Mary Anning. A key figure in the 19th-century fossil scene, she’s a geological pioneer – albeit one who, because she was a self-taught woman, was always on the fringes of the scientific community and never given due credit.
Kate Winslet plays her with a wonderful openness and a simultaneously guarded, spiky edge – both of which are sent into a spiral by the arrival of Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan) in Lyme Regis. What ensues is a burgeoning romance, but one that’s as unspoken and repressed as the women have learned to be, thanks to society’s expectations and pressures.
Lee and DoP Stéphane Fontaine frame their story through the lens of the natural world, the lush visuals accompanied by a beautifully stylised use of sound, from roaring seas to moths trapped under glasses. But while Winslet and Ronan’s chemistry is palpable, the story is told as slowly and restrained as possible, which can leave the whole thing feeling a tad too distant, and the characters’ own conversations (or lack thereof) feeling unnaturally muted.
The best moment, tellingly, is the climax, which brings in some science to go with the sensual, sensitive tale. A superbly composed shot that explicitly frames her against more well-known history leaves you wondering whether greater focus on Mary’s professional legacy than a fictionalised romance would give you something more to swoon over. There’s treasure here, but it requires a lot of digging – at times, perhaps too much.