Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan star in this forgettable lesbian costume drama from God’s Own Country director Francis Lee. Set in the 1840s, Ammonite centres on a speculative relationship that develops between real life fossil hunter and palaeontologist Mary Anning and Charlotte Murchison, a young woman sent to convalesce by the sea near Anning’s home.
Obvious comparisons will be drawn between Lee’s film and Céline Sciamma’s award winning 2019 queer historical drama Portrait of a Lady on Fire, but it’s fair to say that Ammonite has none of the organic passion it seeks to emulate. The characters often feel not only underwritten, but almost too one dimensional for them to be wholly convincing.
Still, Winslet produces a gorgeously understated performance despite not having been given much to work with. For her part, Ronan puts in a strong turn as a young woman learning to discover her true nature. Elsewhere, the always excellent Fiona Shaw sparkles in an all too brief appearance as legendary palaeontologist Elizabeth Philpot, while Gemma Jones (Sense and Sensibility, God’s Own Country) gives a heartfelt and gorgeously layered performance as Mary’s mother, Molly.
There are moments of beauty, of course, in the way Lee captures the gloominess of 1840s English sea resorts, but in the end Ammonite is ultimately let down by a lack of chemistry between its two lead actresses. Furthermore, the overly orchestrated sex scenes often feel more intrusive than intimate, and that is where the film’s whole problem lies.
Overall, it’s not a patch on Lee’s debut feature God’s Own Country which told a tender gay love story set among a contemporary rural setting.