Ammonite ★★★

Following his absorbing first feature God’s Own Country, British director Francis Lee goes back to early 1800s for a lesbian romance film whose spark barely registers. Ammonite follows the burgeoning romance between a fossil collector Mary Anning and a geologist wife Charlotte Murchison. Despite its painterly and poetic attributes, its glaring flaw is the lack of chemistry between actresses Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan both of whose romantic expressions doesn’t really register as a convincing romance. There’s no passion in every kiss, or movement. Their attempts to show love evaporates in the air and dries up like one of them fossils.

But I found a different pleasure in the film. Ammonite is a well-thought out character study of a two women’s emotional journey. They are women ahead of their time, both smart and self-sufficient women living in the constraints of a male dominated era. Anning is treated as an outsider in most scientific communities of her time, as we see her name being replaced in all of her discoveries. While Murchison is seen as an invalid and no help to her husband, even when she has her own distinct intelligence and agency. This is where the film triumphs when it shows and observes their struggles as women of their time.

Kate Winslet is formidable as always, acquiring a different kind of stillness in her performance. Her patient, introverted portrayal fits to Lee’s pacing. Winslet is always fearless and commanding, but here, it’s the silence and tiny expressions that make it so thrilling to watch. Saoirse Ronan is good, but it’s not one of her exceptional turns. Her commitment is present, but it’s quite unconvincing. Something must’ve got lost between her and Winslet that made the chemistry tepid, but I would say, it’s the lack of guidance for these two actors.

Ammonite is a disappointment, but not quite. The pacing worked for me, but it’s a film that is quite undecided in what it wants to be. I appreciated this as a fine character studies of two women, not the romance that it wants us to believe.

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