Human connection overrules the constraints of the past in Francis Lee’s second feature
BY SOPHIE GRIFFITHS
Returning after a hugely successful breakout feature in the form of God’s Own Country, Francis Lee’s Ammonite is here to prove his deserved place in the queer cinema canon. This time, the love story ventures back in time to 1840s Lyme Regis to tell the tale of palaeontologist and fossil collector Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) in a fictionalised romantic drama.
Painting a portrait of Mary Anning, we are immediately thrust into her simple and isolated world where she runs a shop selling her findings to rich tourists, with her past revolutionary work going unappreciated by the gatekeepers of her scientific field.
Into this lonely existence walks Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan), the grieving wife of wealthy Scottish geologist Roderick Murchison (James McArdle). Her arrival lights a fire of sexual awakening that has been long suppressed by Mary, breaking through her cold demeanour as she gradually warms to her. With this burning romance, the film starts to burst into colour, and the weather-battered coast is suddenly calm and still under the summer sky.
Francis Lee clearly does well in depicting such bleak landscapes though, and in Ammonite it serves to reflect Mary and her personality. Her feelings are buried and she has to hunt deep within herself to find them, the front she puts on is just as tough as the rocks she chips away at daily.
Mary is also still dealing with the aftermath of a failed love affair with fellow fossil-collector Elizabeth Philpot (played by queer icon Fiona Shaw), leaving you to wonder what exactly went wrong for them.
Dialogue is used sparingly in Ammonite, but it works to build up the sexual and emotional tension between the pair. Winslet says so much with her face and body language throughout the film that she barely even needs words at all to convey the overwhelming amount of inner conflict Mary faces.
It is arguably in these unspoken moments, full of tender glances loaded with meaning and electricity building in the physical space between them, that some of the best moments of the film emerge.
Whether it’s in a healing caress, or a gripping sexual encounter, Ronan and Winslet show the perfect amount of passion balanced with the constraint that women lived under during the Victorian era, and what really goes on behind closed doors when your love is forbidden.
Ammonite represents a slightly different kind of queer love story to the plethora of period pieces that have come before it. It’s ultimately a film about connection and the formative impact it can have on a life, as Mary learns to fall in love with the present day after being fixated on the past for so long.
I can certainly see a few well-deserved Oscar nominations heading Ammonite’s way.
Ammonite had its UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival last weekend and will be coming soon to UK cinemas soon.