• Nate Adams

Review: Underwritten 'Ammonite' elevated by Oscar worthy performances


Courtesy of NEON

Opening in the shadow of critically adored “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” writer-director Frances Lee attempts to spin a new type of period love affair in “Ammonite.” This time between two veterans, Kate Winslet and Saorise Ronan, who both shed whatever images you have of them, particularly the latter, to subdue audiences with a believable romance even if the film never rises to their level.  


Winlest leads the Lesbian period piece as 19th century palentologist Mary Anning whose romantic life has been ficitonally created by Lee. Although no evidence exists to validate Lee’s assertion that Anning was involved with women, she had closely tied female relationships in her lifetime to help fuel the narrative. Set in 1840, when strong female bonds and friendships were all the rage, we meet Anning scavenging on the beach looking for fossils and relics from the past. She’s extremely accomplished in the field of geology, though the film doesn’t take interest in her contributions to science. 


Long and slow stretches mold throughout “Ammonite” until Winslet relinquishes half the screen to co-star Sairose Ronan playing Charlotte Murchison whose marriage is, for lack of a better word, struggling. Then “Ammonite” sees our duo take beach walks under the gloomy skies as Mary begins developing feelings for Charlotte. Both actresses are in near perfect form under the film's emotionally depressing ambiguity. Winslet, like her character, plays it tough while Ronan, showing quiet excitement in her journey to be freed from the clutches of societal expectations, grounds the relationship. 


Their jockeying chemistry elevates “Ammonite” with passionate and explicit sex scenes outdoing that of “Portrait,” however, the film constantly feels like it’s giving audiences a cold shoulder. There are gorgeous visuals filling the background, amplified with an enchanting sound design that’s calm and serene nature could put you to sleep, but the elusiveness of the characters, specifically Anning, proves a challenging obstacle to overcome. When the finale is reached, a predictable moral dilemma is presented where career and love intersect and crucial decisions hang in the balance. Until that point, Anning’s career had been an afterthought and thus its significance doesn’t bear much weight. Yes, there’s plenty worth digging up and two solid performances that might garner award attention, but “Ammonite” underwriting its characters leaves a bitter aftertaste. 


Grade: C+ 


AMMONITE will open in select theaters starting November 13th before debuting on PVOD December 4th.