Directed by Francis Lee
Starring Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, Fiona Shaw, James McArdle
It’s starting to feel a bit like awards season, despite the disruption of such ceremonies, with a period romance film like Ammonite now out, which excels in the terrific acting from the leads, but keeps all of its other qualities subdued.
Mary (Kate Winslet) is a palaeontologist living near a coastline of Southern Britain during the 1840s, spending her time walking up and down the shore, collecting the ocean’s knick-knacks, as well as trying to find common fossils. A well-off married couple appear at her work, and quite suddenly, the husband offers Mary to take care of his wife Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan) whilst he’s away.
The film rushes its first act, with both characters barely established before they’re already becoming close acquaintances. Mary is a curt woman, Charlotte is a trapped woman, and both of them are very mopey. There’s more time spent on the two becoming closer as they discover a love for each other, but even that seems to be conjured from hardly anywhere.
The similarities to Portrait of a Lady on Fire are striking, and it seems a shame that this film is inferior in just about every way. Portrait’s pacing really made it earn the credibility that its own women soon became lovers, whereas Ammonite is the kind of film where you can see the gears churning to engineer this relationship.
The Mary Anning character was a real palaeontologist, who has retroactively been regarded as one of the greats to come from Britain during this era. But the film doesn’t depict her greatness, setting its story during a time when she was merely trying to get by. There’s also been no evidence about her sexuality, which has been fabricated for this film, leaving one feeling that Ammonite has no sense of history. The events here feel insular and confined to just this story.
Ammonite is clearly a vehicle for the acting, which is great from both the leads, but also unmemorable due to how uninteresting their romance story has been developed. This is clearly a derivative period romance film, with Portrait still in clear memory to offer such a contrast in quality.