Following his sublime directorial debut, God’s Own Country, Francis Lee once again delves into feelings of repression, loneliness and desire in Ammonite. Inspired by the life of trailblazing British palaeontologist Mary Anning (Kate Winslet), the period drama follows the scientist as she slowly falls for a young, tormented housewife (Saoirse Ronan). 

What starts as a quiet, pondering scrutiny of ostracism quickly turns into a tiring battery of symbolism, a tempting storytelling resource that ends up choking the contemplative pace of the narrative. A dead fetus inside a boiled egg, a trapped moth by the windowsill, a rock – once too heavy to lift – made lighter by an extra pair of hands. The list goes on and on. It is when Lee forgoes his many metaphors and simply rests his camera onto the wiry semblant of Winslet that Ammonite truly feels like something special. 

Despite commited individual performances, Winslet and Ronan fall short when together. The act of falling in love is doomed to be unconvincing by the underwhelming chemistry shared by the duo. Ultimately, Charlotte feels more like a mere vessel than a fully-formed person, a perfectly timed excuse for Mary to exorcise her own demons. 

When the relationship between the two women sadly turns lukewarm, the passion between Mary and her craft steadily rises up to the plate, ultimately dominating the story. The tenderness with which the woman carefully carves each rock, the devotion she shows to every single step of her delicate process oozes its very own particular kind of sensuality, one that is intrinsically related to the confidence in her domain of the practice. 

As Mary stands, aptly framed by one of the many pictures of male doppelgängers adorning the walls of The British Museum, expectations on what is to be her happy ending are upended. Regretfully, however, it feels a little too late.  

RATING: 3/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, Fiona Shaw, Gemma Jones

DIRECTOR: Francis Lee

WRITER: Francis Lee

SYNOPSIS: 1840s England, acclaimed but overlooked fossil hunter Mary Anning and a young woman sent to convalesce by the sea develop an intense relationship, altering both of their lives forever