Ammonite stars Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, two powerhouse actresses known for their awards worthy performances in period dramas. Unfortunately, it feels as though the film relies too heavily on the performances alone and with little character development for an audience to grip, we’re left flat and cold.
Written and directed by Francis Lee, the film is inspired by the life of palaeontologist Mary Anning. A closed off and private woman, she spends her days caring for her aging mother and scouring the beaches for more fossil specimens to sell in her shop. Winslet is well committed to the role and her performance as Mary feels as cold and shut off as the fossils she herself excavates. She perhaps however succeeded too well in developing Mary. Her character is so closed off it’s impossible to relate to her in any way, so moments of great joy or great sadness feel entirely removed and unearned.
When Ronan’s Charlotte Murchison ends up becoming interlinked in her life, the pair develop a romantic relationship, which though described as passionate, felt anything but. Ronan does her best to embody a lifeless character, but she switches from melancholy to ecstatic almost as quick as she changes outfits. (Though I must say, Michael O’Connor’s costume design is superb.) It is hinted that she has suffered from her own personal tragedies, yet this is never explored, and so to the audience she remains a frail doll like figure, eventually evolving into what feels like a spoilt child towards the end.
Whilst it would be difficult to find such wonderful actresses as Winslet and Ronan, for some reason the pair do not click, and the much needed spark of passion to sell the core romance of the film never ignites. They feel like strangers throughout and leave the audience lukewarm even in the most passionate of love making scenes.
Visually the film succeeds. Cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine has managed to capture the physical essence of Lyme Regis on screen and through a myriad of greys and the sound design, it feels a tactile and visceral film. I found myself feeling chills in my bones at the beautiful but withholding scenery.
Ammonite will likely still make the awards season due to the high calibre of all involved, but it feels mediocre at best. Both Ronan and Winslet have given better performances and passionate affairs between two unlikely lovers can be found in much better works.
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