Exclusively from London Film Festival
„God’s Own Country” director Francis Lee is back with a new cinematic project, after an absence of over 3 years. He had previously been nominated by the British Film Institute for a BAFTA Award for „God’s Own Country” for the category of Outstanding British Film of the Year. Having collaborated with Romanian actor Alec Secareanu on the 2017 motion picture, Lee opted for featuring him in his latest project as well.
„Ammonite” is a biographical period piece set in the 1840s, following the career and private life of one of the greatest fossilists of the world, Mary Anning, portrayed by the Academy Award winner and 7 times nominated actress, Kate Winslet. Right from the begining of the film, the social setting of that time is clearly stated, as another male palenthologist gets credited for one of Anning’s most exquisite findings, thus leaving her in the shadow of her own discovery. Becoming a world renowned fossilist and at the same time, being an unmarried adult woman in 1800s England had rapidly shaped up her status and temperament.
Besides not being fully appreciated for her work, Anning also has to confront with helping out her ill mother, while putting together her scientific research which would allow her to remain a figure of interest in her specialised field of study. After the first 10 minutes, the story starts to grow more complex, as the arrival of one Roderick Murchison (James McArdle, „Mary Queen of Scots”, „Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) finds Mary in an uncomfortable position. Agreeing to spend a few weeks with his wife Charlotte, who had been recently diagnosed with melancholia, (played by the 4-time Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan), allows for the development of a beautiful, intimate friendship between the two women. And so, the narrative evolves around their unlikely bond, branching out with a high intensity, and constituting the main theme of this drama.
Fully written and directed by Francis Lee, the script covers essential stages in the leads’ progressive relationship, making for an in-depth analysis of their feelings and perception of one another. Reserved, yet observant, Mary attempts to hide her fascination for the enigmatic nature of Charlotte, whose thoughts remain a mystery until the very half of the film. The two main performances unarguably constitute the most striking asset of the feature, as both actresses descend delicately into their roles, fully embracing the tender exchange of emotion, passion and intimacy between the characters.
Interesting however, is the casting of Kate Winslet in this LGBTQ+ film, due to previously turning down the chance to collaborate with Yorgos Lanthimos on 2018’s period piece „The Favourite”, in which she had reportedly been considered for the role later assigned to Rachel Weisz. An apparent scheduling conflict is supposed to be the cause of her unavailability back in 2018.
The production design, as well as costumes, hair and makeup keep the viewers under the impression that the story is unraveling right next to them, contributing equally to the evolution of this immersive period drama. The light, subtle tones in cinematography make for an accurate depiction and reproduction of the 1800s as seen through the eyes of the director and the production members who worked hand in hand to achieve this historical artistic perspective.
Quite vexatious after a while, the rather slow-paced approach to the story might motivate the vulnerability in the execution of the film, followed primarily by the lack of musical background which could have enabled the premise of the film to grow in a better context. The rather inexistent score, with the exception of around 10 minutes in which it was undeniably present, tends to remove part of the feature’s credibility in offering a complete viewing experience. In the absence of a consistent soundtrack to improve one’s attitude to the cinematic perspective, „Ammonite” becomes quite hard to absorb if presented to inattentive audiences.