2020 BFI London Film Festival Review: AMMONITE
Despite dedicated performances from Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, Francis Lee’s Ammonite is as bleak and dour as the film’s wintry Lyme Regis setting.
Named after a coiled shell fossil, Ammonite centres on the 19th Century romance between working-class palaeontologist Mary Anning (Winslet) and the married upper-crust lady, Charlotte Murchison (Ronan).
The historical facts of Anning and Murchison relationship have been disputed, but God’s Own Country director Francis has defended how he painted the pair, stating that Ammonite is not a biopic and it was appropriate “after seeing queer history be routinely ‘straightened’ throughout culture”. It’s a fair point, but sadly Lee’s film is a plodding affair which manages to make two hours seem like an eternity.
Everyone in Ammonite appears to be so miserable, even when the sparks of passion ignite between the gruff Anning and withdrawn Murchison, they never seem happy. You would expect to see some excitement as the pair form a life changing relationship, but it would seem that falling in love is as big a chore as searching for fossils in winter. This type of forbidden love film isn’t new and it’s been done much better in multitude of other films (see last year’s Portrait of A Lady on Fire).
Ammonite does manage to impress on a technical level and cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine captures the film’s wonderfully bleak coastal setting and the score by Dustin O’Halloran and Volker Bertelmann hits the right notes. At least it looks and sounds good.
A dull and plodding affair, Ammonite follows a romance which fails to register any passion whatsoever. Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan work hard but they can’t bring life to this fossilised drama.