Cinema Review: Ammonite | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, November 26th, 2020  


Studio: Neon
Directed by Francis Lee

Nov 13, 2020 Web Exclusive
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Francis Lee returns with his sophomore effort, Ammonite, another tale of deeply rooted passion and longing, with a dazzling combination of acting talent at its heart. But does his second feature really live up to the hype?

Lee’s first feature, God’s Own Country, was a sweeping romantic tale between two men, which felt like it had leaped from the pages of an Emily Brontë novel, the misty Yorkshire moors providing an epic backdrop to the proceedings. A cinematic breath of fresh air, and one that had a wide-reaching impact on its release. The film marked Lee as “one to watch,” and with the announcement of Ammonite came much anticipation.

Swapping foggy Yorkshire hills for the West Dorset coast, Lee relocates in more ways one, but it isn’t nature providing the stunning backdrop this time round. With an increased interest in his writer/director abilities, Lee has managed to snag Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan as his two leads - and their charisma is the true driving force of this movie.

Based loosely around the lives and friendship of paleontologist Mary Anning and geologist Charlotte Murchison, Lee transposes his framework of romantic and sexual longing into this period piece, confronting issues of gender discrimination and the veracity of scientific discovery along the way.

We meet Mary (Winslet) as she scurries across the cliff faces of Lyme Regis, scouring the rock for fossils that she can sell in her shop to tourists who pass through the town. In the modern day Mary is a renowned scientific figure, but her main discovery of a complete ichthyosaur skeleton (which still rests in the Natural History Museum in London to this day) was never fully attributed to her, and was an important example of evolutionary discovery at that time. The way we are introduced to her is as an introvert, buried in the solace and physical nature of her work.

However, she is dragged from her slumber when a visitor to the town leaves his wife in her care while he departs on a scientific voyage. Enter Charlotte (Ronan), at first even more withdrawn than Mary, but as the two spend more and more time together with the ocean as their backdrop, a spark is lit between them and they fall quite insatiably in love.

The societal pressures to keep their affair secret puts a strain on their relationship but they are drawn together time and time again, their compassion for one another binding them together. Mary, nursing Charlotte back to health when she falls ill, and Charlotte fighting to get Mary’s works recognised properly. They find the strength they need in themselves, in each other. But like the delicate fossils that Mary slaves over, their relationship is never far from splintering and falling into dust.

This is a triumphant return for Francis Lee, who gives his leads the reigns and lets them take the initiative to give the story new and vibrant life. They are the main draw here, and it’s great to see these two very talented performers in this environment.

Although at times it can feel like Ammonite is treading over similar ground to God’s Own Country, it’s probably better to view them as companion pieces; the first being more raw and visceral with this feeling more restrained and observant - a complete body of work.

Author rating: 7/10

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