Directed by Francis Lee.
Starring Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Jones, Fiona Shaw, James McArdle, Claire Rushbrook, Alec Secareanu and Sam Parks.
Fossil hunter Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) is the foremost expert in her field. Living and working in Lyme Regis during the 1800s, her world is turned upside down by the arrival of a young woman (Saoirse Ronan). The intense connection which soon delivers is guaranteed to change both women forever.
Lyme Regis in the 1840s is bleak and windswept, offering few opportunities for comfort or companionship. This Jurassic coastline is relentlessly bombarded by high wind, rain and plummeting temperatures. People travel down from London, thinking the sea air has medicinal properties, while local residents survive on summer trade. This barren seaside town is the location for Francis Lee’s uncompromising second feature Ammonite.
Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan form the backbone to a bittersweet character piece, with elements of real life woven into its fabric. Mary Anning is a renowned fossil hunter, revered worldwide for her unique finds and broad knowledge base. Kate Winslet takes this bastion of female empowerment and hems her in completely. Hidden beneath numerous layers, devoid of any feminine touches and heavily calloused from working the beach, Mary is emotionally isolated.
Obsessed by an extinct ecosystem and devoted to a curmudgeonly matriarch, she has little time for people. Their finds are solid to an ill-informed gentry, who come down from London to purchase their page in the history. However, Ammonite is about much more than female emancipation or persecution in terms of gender, intellect and orientation.
Dialogue throughout the film is sparse and Francis Lee uses silences with care. If a screenplay is about showing rather than telling an audience something, then Ammonite fulfils the brief with ease. In this world glances mean everything, a gentle hand on the shoulder is deemed gratuitous and social constraints are tighter than any strait jacket. Propriety, discretion and unspoken truths define a narrative where appearances are everything.
Saoirse Ronan and Kate Winslet create a chemistry between them which is endearingly tender. As barriers are broken down, a sense of genuine freedom permeates this brutal seaside resort. Mary is able to cast off the shackles of an emotional recluse and enjoy a brief period of sexual liberation. What follows is a torrid outpouring of passion, which celebrates not only their physical union, but unique emotional connection. There is a bravery to these scenes, both in their unguarded honesty, but also in watching two actresses truly commit to this material. Not only are these full-frontal moments essential to what follows, but provide audiences with a sense of social context.
Fiona Shaw’s brief but essential appearance as fossil hunter Elizabeth Philpot, only adds further fuel to the narrative fire. A previous connection with Mary is implied in her scenes through performances of subtlety on both sides. These women are trapped by roles they are resigned to exist within, where reputations both personal and professional mean more than individual happiness. A contradiction which not only gets to the heart of Ammonite, but is still able to celebrate our ability to make those connections; however fleeting.
Ammonite will be available for premium rental at home on all digital platforms from March 26th.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★