Ammonite (2020)

Director: Francis Lee
Writer: Francis Lee
Cast: Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Jones, Fiona Shaw, Alec Secareanu, James McArdle, Claire Rushbrook
Part of: Queertactics Festival
Seen on: 23.6.2021

Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) lives in a small town at the sea with her mother (Gemma Jones). Every day, Mary goes down to the beach to look for fossils, having made many important finds already – not that the scientific establishment cares much about her. Nevertheless, one day a geologist, Roderick Murchinson (James McArdle) comes to her shop and hopes to accompany Mary to the beach to learn from her. He is willing to pay for it, and Mary is poor, so she agrees. A little while later, Murchinson leaves on a trip to the continent, but leaves behind his sickly wife Charlotte (Saorise Ronan). Mary finds herself suddenly responsible for Charlotte, a charge she resents at first. But slowly the two of them warm to each other.

Ammonite is a really nice film with excellent performances and good characters. It could have done with a little more happiness, but I did like it a lot.

The film poster showing Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) looking to the right and Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan) to the left. Their inages are pale apart from where their two faces intersect.

Ammonite starts with the literal erasure of Mary Anning’s name from the museum where her findings are exhibited. It returns a couple of time to the crtiicism of academia at the time. Now, I don’t know much about Mary Anning or Charlotte Murchinson. From what I gather, though, Murchinson was a scientist herself, so given the care that Anning receives here, it does feel kind of ironic that Murchinson’s own scientific endeavors are completely erased from the film.

But that is just a sidenote – the film’s main focus is on the love story here. With Portrait of a Lady on Fire and The World to Come, we have recently seen two pretty big movies that focus on a sapphic love story in a historical setting (and none of the actors are out as queer, if I’m not mistaken). What separates Ammonite from those two films, though, is that it at least allows us the possibility of a happy ending for the two women. And that it’s not the first time that the two characters fall in love with a woman. It might be the first time for Charlotte, but Mary actually has an ex we are introduced, too. Both things are desperately needed in representation.

Mary (Kate Winslet) and Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan) cuddling on the beach.

Winslet and Ronan do a good job. Their characters are so different, but they make them make sense together. Also, the chemistry between them is quite steamy. But I have to admit that Gemma Jones steals every moment she is in. She is absolutely hilarious without ever cracking a joke. Sometimes she doesn’t even have to talk to really make you laugh.

Ultimately, Ammonite is a sensitive character study in a harsh environment (skilfully captured by both cinematography and sound). Does it fulfill my hope for actually happy lesbians? Not quite. But it is a lot closer than other films in that regard. And in any case, it is definitely worth watching.

Mary (Kate Winslet) on the beach, looking critical.

Summarizing: you should see it.

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