Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) has always been fiercely independent in her work as a fossil hunter. But such is the persistence of Roderick Murchison (James McArdle), who also convinces with his generous fee, something Mary and her mother Molly (Gemma Jones) are sorely in need of, that she takes him on an expedition. When it is time to leave, Roberick arranges to leave his wife Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan), who is in mourning over the death of their baby, in Mary’s care. Though their relationship is initially cool, Mary and Charlotte soon develop an intense and passionate relationship.
‘Ammonite’ may not be a career best for either Winslet or Ronan, only because they have previous credits that have proven more impressive, both actresses adapt well to their roles here – Mary, being short-tempered and hardened by her work, while Charlotte, dainty and soft, is just as determined. Their romance develops gradually and compellingly, but also a tad predictably. There’s a maternal dynamic in their bond which is intriguing too.
Writer-director Francis Lee really took audiences by surprise with his debut ‘God’s Own Country’. ‘Ammonite’ demonstrates his continued investment in queer drama, but his second feature never has quite the punch of its predecessor (even with the historical inaccuracies which have been pointed out by critics aside).
Moreover, as much as one tries to resist comparing the feature to ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ (all the beach-set scenes hardly help, even if they are of a greyer palette compared to ‘Portrait’s bright and practically technicolour cinematography), one can’t help themselves. The fact of the matter is, this movie’s emotionality and sense of story pales in comparison to the French feature.
Still, much of what’s going on visually in ‘Ammonite’ is really striking. The gruelling, dirty and meticulous nature of Mary’s work is powerfully portrayed. There is plenty of symbolism for film geeks to pore over, such as when an ocean wave overwhelms Saoirse Ronan (the sea environment later proving an environment for play and liberation for her and Winslet). The removal of a sock, the tightening of a corset, and the clever use of a portrait frame provide stills that are thought-provoking and gorgeous to look at. Thus, while it’s a shame that ‘Ammonite’ falls short of being extraordinary, there’s plenty to appreciate, and Ronan and Winslet’s performances and relationship keep you invested.
‘Ammonite’ is available for premium rental at home on all digital platforms from this Friday 26th March.