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Ammonite – Movie Review

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Ammonite – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

From Carol to Disobedience, there has been a rise in lesbian love stories over the past decade, which is wonderful to see. These films are able to show the close bond many women can have with one another and how they come to love each other. Ammonite features a same-sex romance at its centre via fossil collector Mary Anning and a young woman named Charlotte Murchison. However, that’s not necessarily the main focus of the plot. Director/writer Francis Lee is also fascinated in the scientific work done by Anning and he brings a beautiful touch in depicting it on screen. This is a mesmerizing slow burn that successfully pulls one into the time period and Anning’s life’s work.

Those who want to see this film primarily to watch Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan make out will be disappointed. Ammonite isn’t as interested in their romantic scenes together as it is in showing how Anning’s need for companionship gets her there. Lee takes time to show us who Anning is and what she does in her day-to-day life. By using some truly immersive sound mixing and effects, Ammonite is strangely involving as we watch her at work. The sounds of the waves hitting the shore or Anning chipping away at the rocks are amped up to give you the full aural experience. Even the dialogue is mostly spoken softly and with care and that adds to the film’s overall atmosphere.

Winslet portrays Mary Anning as someone who obviously takes her fossil collecting and cataloguing very seriously, although a few humourous lines slip through. When she talks about her preferred subject, she appropriately comes across as an expert. There could have been entire scenes of her discussing fossils and her lessons actually would have been interesting to hear. We do sympathise with her as she chooses to keep herself mostly closed off. It’s an internal performance and Winslet sells it. Ronan also does very well as Murchison. One understands why she gravitates towards Anning and forms a connection with her. They have quite a few lovely scenes together where they’re just conversing and admiring each other.

The love scenes between them don’t feel gratuitous or meant to be lurid. These are merely two women in love who have passionate feelings towards one another. Although the story does show the differences in their personalities and the effect that also has. Lee’s direction takes full advantage of the locations, especially Anning’s small home. The film makes full use of the bare production design to highlight her living conditions. Adding to the delicate nature of the movie is Dustin O’Halloran and Volker Bertelmann’s score, which gives the two leads a beautiful melody and other heartfelt leitmotifs.

Ammonite moves at a deliberate pace, but it actually works in the film’s favour. Through its use of sound effects and cinematography, we are pulled into this world and a subject matter that could have easily been dry and boring becomes quite compelling. Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan especially deserve a lot of credit for how they handle their real-life characters, even if some may scoff at the historical accuracy. They manage to convey a lot through glances and how they deliver the dialogue. What starts off as a film about a fossil collector and her mostly lonely life becomes about someone who finds a unique connection with an unexpected visitor.

Stefan Ellison

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