By Amanda Gilmore for Mr. Will Wong
Francis Lee’s latest takes us to 19th-century Dorset. It follows real-life Palaeontologist Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) as she searches the coastline for marine fossils. She spends her days alone, walking the shore and helping at her mother’s tiny shop. Soon she finds her solitary life becomes upended when she’s asked by another Palaeontologist to care for his melancholic wife, Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan). In need of the money, she agrees. Gradually, Mary and Charlotte grow close.
Lee does an amazing job shooting the Film in a show-don’t-tell way. There is limited dialogue throughout. Instead, he creates scenes where the weather, objects and characters actions speak volumes. This becomes integral in escalating visually the blossoming love between Mary and Charlotte. In the First Act, Mary is rightfully angry and curt, while Charlotte is mourning the loss of her child. The beautiful coast’s weather parallels their emotions. There are overcast skies and violent waves attacking the coastline. As they spend time together, the clouds clear and the waters calm.
Ammonite is more than a period-Romance. Lee focuses on the work of the incredible Mary and the theme of women taking ownership of their work. During the 19th-century, no Scientific Society would take-in a woman. No matter how hard and astounding Mary’s work was, she was excluded. However, there were male Scientists who were interested in learning from her, being the best in her field. But in the end, they knew she was in need of money. So, they would pay her for what she found and put their names on it. In focusing on this, Lee enhances his Script with a love story involving ownership and class.
Mary loved and lived for her work. It didn’t matter that in doing so, she wouldn’t be part of the upper-class. However, Charlotte is part of the upper-class. It’s here that conflict arises in their relationship. So many times, we have witnessed a forbidden same-sex romance. Although that is at play here, Ammonite focuses on their differing upbringings and that divides them no matter how badly they want to be together. Once again, Lee shows us this instead of telling us. He places his characters on opposite sides of Mary’s glassed sea-creature on display inside the British Museum.
With the talent of Winslet and Ronan in the Film’s lead roles, we are expecting greatness, and they do not disappoint. Winslet is always dynamite. Here, she gives one of her strongest performances. She encapsulates the anger Mary has for having to sell her work and her vulnerability when falling in love with Charlotte. Ronan gives a performance like we’ve never seen from her before. She’s strongest in portraying Charlotte’s grief and her desperation to keep Mary close to her. Their raw emotion feels authentic and honest, especially in their love scenes that are shot meticulously and delicately. And with minimal screen time, Fiona Shaw captivates as a previous love of Mary’s.
While at times it lags a little, this period-Romance which fuses Gender Politics and Classism, is made-up for with stellar performances, particularly by Winslet.
Ammonite screens at TIFF ’20 as follows:
Fri, Sep 11 9:15pm & 9:30pm
TIFF Bell Lightbox
Sat, Sep 12 6:00pm
Online at Bell Digital Cinema
Mon, Sep 14 12:30pm
TIFF Bell Lightbox