- Emma Simmonds
- 23 March 2021
Kate Winslet plays Mary Anning in Francis Lee's stunning romantic drama
Francis Lee follows his critically adored debut God's Own Country with a visually chilly yet pathos-filled evocation of a woman's lot in the 19th century. Ammonite brings us movingly into the orbit of pioneering but ostracised palaeontologist Mary Anning, speculating that her relationship with friend Charlotte Murchison was actually something more.
Kate Winslet portrays Anning as a gruff and wary soul who seems worn out when we meet her foraging for fossils on a Lyme Regis beach. Sharing a home with her mother Molly (Gemma Jones), their lives have been beset by death and their day-to-day survival is a struggle despite Mary's reputation. An encounter with Roderick Murchison (James McArdle), an affluent admirer of Mary's work, leads to her reluctantly assuming responsibility for his wife Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan) while he goes travelling. Described as suffering from mild melancholia, after some prescribed sea bathing, Charlotte becomes quite dangerously ill.
With the tender way that Mary cares for her charge breaking down the barriers between them, when Charlotte recovers their relationship is transformed. Beautifully shot by Stéphane Fontaine (Jackie, Rust and Bone), it's the kind of film where feelings often go unuttered, but there's a strong sense of intimacy in the portrayal of their burgeoning romance; they exchange some lovely looks and there's a reassuring hand squeeze, before the nervousness of their first kiss is relayed with trepidation and honesty.
Ronan is very convincing as she emerges from what is not melancholia but mourning and opens herself up to love, but it's particularly fine work from Winslet as the more taciturn of the pair. There's great passion to their affair but Lee shows that sisterly solidarity plays an important part, too. The lovers take refuge in each other from a society where women's lives are not their own, their pain is an inconvenience and sign of weakness, and the hard graft of their achievements goes crushingly unrecognised.
Screened on Sat 17 and Sun 18 Oct as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2020. Available to watch on premium video on demand from Fri 26 Mar.