★★★★ - STUFF
- Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan's heartwrenching romance a film of moments -
Two of the finest actors of their respective generations. A director whose debut stunned with its raw intimacy, intensity and ability to capture the rougher edges of the British countryside. Working together with material that combines a biopic of a previously unheralded scientist with an achingly romantic tale of social strata-shattering love.
How could Ammonite be anything but a sweeping success? And yet something doesn’t quite fully resonate here, the way it did with Francis Lee’s first film God’s Own Country.
Not that Ammonite is a bad movie – in fact, far from it. Stars Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan are terrific, both apart and together. Lee captures the chill and bleakness of the windswept West Dorset coast and uses it to reflect the characters’ feelings superbly, long wordless scenes still captivating as his main duo first regard each other with suspicion and later adoration.
However, it feels like a film of moments, rather than a truly compelling whole. There are scenes that will truly melt your heart, others that will break it and one that is most definitely not for those easily shocked (think the British costume drama equivalent of Blue is the Warmest Color). At other times though, the story occasionally seems to drift and the pervading sense of melancholia threatens to overwhelm Ammonite itself.
Like a character in a James Joyce novel, before Mary Anning (Winslet) met Charlotte Murchison (Ronan), her life “rolled out evenly, a passionless tale”. Earning a living unearthing and selling fossils, Anning had developed a reputation among the geographic and other scientific societies for her skills, even if they preferred not to acknowledge her for her work.
Roderick Murchison (James McArdle) initially seeks her out to learn what he can about her methods of collection, but eventually requires her services for something else. Young wife Charlotte has fallen ill and while he is needed elsewhere, sea air and rest is recommended for her recuperation. Reluctantly – and mainly because she needs the money to help keep herself and her elderly mother (Gemma Jones) afloat – Mary agrees to look after ailing waif. However, the more time they spend together, the more they find that, despite their differences, there’s a palpable connection they cannot deny.
Through exquisite framing and composition, Volker Bertlemann and Dustin O’Halloran’s haunting score and the sheer will and skill of his two leads, writer-director weaves his, at times, emotionally charged tale. Those treating this as gospel should be warned, there’s a degree of authenticity that even The Crown might blanch at. Historical facts tell us that Murchison was actually 11 years older than Anning.
That aside though, there’s a lot to admire about Ammonite, from its scene and style-setting opening walk along a beach to its beautifully composed, bravura final shot.
- James Croot, STUFF
Ammonite is now playing at Light House Cinema!