- Movie Rating -

Ammonite (2020)

| December 10, 2020

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I have not been able to go to movie theaters nor film festivals.  So now, with the help of award-season screeners, this month I am catching up.

The two major points of interest with Francis Lee’s Ammonite will be, first, that it features two beautiful stars Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronin as 19th century women locked in a forbidden love affair, and second a reasonable comparison with last year’s lesbian period drama Portrait of a Lady on Fire.  But if you’re coming in locked and loaded only with those expectations then you’re going to miss something special.

Ammonite is not comparable to the other film.  It moves at a different pace, and reveals its hand slowly over time.  It is loosely based on the life of Mary Anning, a famed English paleontologist whose work in the field might have brought her great fame if she hadn’t had the misfortune to have been a woman.  For this reason, she was denied admission into the Geological Society of London and it would not be until 150 years after her death that she would be hailed for her contribution.

But that’s the outward story.  Ammonite is much more interested in the stone walls that surround her heart.  Mary (Winslet) is a very particular person, quiet and impersonal.  Her expressionless face betrays a wounded heart and, at first, we aren’t sure why.  She is distant even from those who come into her shop, spending her time collecting fossils from the rocky beaches that surround her home on a bank of England’s Lyme Regis.  Even contact with her sad-eyed, ailing mother (Gemma Jones) is functional and limited.  Mary’s reputation is well-founded but what should be a brilliant career is whittled down (due largely to her gender) to selling specimens to roving tourists.

The upset to her stolid world (in period pieces there always has to be one) is the arrival of Roderick Murcheson (), an aristocrat on the first leg of a European tour, who brings with him a pale and spindly young wife named Charlotte (Ronin) and asks Mary if she will care for his wife while she recuperates from the melancholia of a  personal tragedy.

What follows is not exactly what you expect.  Well, it is, but it doesn’t happen in the manner that you might expect.  Mary wants to be left alone to her research and wants nothing to do with Charlotte, but she can’t turn down the money that Roderick is offering.  So, slowly, over time and much reluctant interaction, a quiet and unspoken bond develops between Mary and Charlotte until late it he picture they find themselves giving in to their hidden passion.

The actual sex scene, which are not coy, aren’t as interesting as the scenes that build up to them.  This is the 1840s, and these women are engaging in an affair that could have them thrown in an institution for the rest of their lives.  In that spirit, words are replaced by quiet glances, facial queues and things suggested but never spoken.  And yet, the movie doesn’t over-arch the danger that they are in, we just kind of feel it.  Director Francis Lee builds the mood of this film with the austerity of his canvas and with the power of his two leads.  Yes, they have sex but it is less interesting than what he allows to build between them.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2020) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized