by Chris Connor
Francis Lee’s 2017 God’s Own Country has won him plaudits the world over, opening up the Yorkshire landscape for a flood of tourists and ensuring he is a director to be reckoned with. His latest film is the Jurassic Coast set 19th Century piece Ammonite, depicting the real life Fossil Collector and Palaeontologist Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) as she strikes up a friendship and eventual romance with Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan).
Ammonite has peculiarly not taken off this awards season which is somewhat of a shame as many had it tagged on as an awards contender prior to its premiere and release. While it has earned steady if not stellar reviews it is a meticulously crafted film that with exquisite attention to period detail and heartbreakingly beautiful in patches.
The film depicts the relationship between the abrupt Anning who is a famed fossil collector as she is left to look after Murchison following her husband’s departure overseas and the pair develop a close bond through spending hours together and embark upon a romantic relationship.
The Lime Regis setting and Jurassic Coastline acts almost as one of the stars of the film much as the Yorkshire landscape was for Lee’s previous film. The luscious coastline and quaint town depicted really offer an idyllic glimpse at this corner of Britain, particularly in the timeframe depicted. The sound of the waves crashing against the shoreline as Mary collects fossils is truly breathtaking and the cinematography really does justice in capturing the beauty and rugged nature of the coastline.
Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan offer a splendid pair of lead performances, capturing the pairs initial awkwardness and subsequent bond perfectly. They have an incredible combined screen presence as one might expect from a pair of their calibre with one never outshining the other although this as this is Anning’s story she is naturally given slightly more narrative heft. With much of the film focusing on the landscape and insular nature of both women there is a huge amount of silence throughout and the pair’s facial expressions do much of the work but the film never loses momentum in spite of its quieter moments. There is a solid supporting turn from Killing Eve and Harry Potter star Fiona Shaw, although the stars of the show are well and truly Winslet and Ronan.
It is to Lee’s credit how heavily he commits to the romantic sequences, allowing the romance to fully form onscreen, in the past much would have been left to the viewers imagination and it is refreshing to see a relationship of this type explored more deeply.
While it perhaps suffers from its proximity and slight narrative similarity to the widely acclaimed Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, Ammonite is a wonderful advert for its Jurassic Coast setting, showing a part of the UK that is perhaps not widely promoted on film and is a real indication of the talent at the disposal of both Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan. It is a crying shame it has been overlooked at many of this year’s awards but it should certainly be sought out for its quiet approach to Mary Anning’s story even if some of its historical accuracy has been questioned in some corners.
Ammonite is out on Digital now.