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Ammonite - Movie Review

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It’s foolish to expect a movie about fossil hunting to be an exciting action banger. But Lord Have Mercy, is Ammonite about as slow as one would expect a movie about fossil hunting to be!

To be fair, Ammonite isn’t about fossil hunting, nor does being slow necessarily make it a bad film. It isn’t. But like the dirty, encrusted prehistoric marvels that give the film its title, Ammonite, the film, could have used some polishing up of its own.

"Lord have mercy, is Ammonite about as slow as one would expect a movie about fossil hunting to be"


The film is from God’s Own Country filmmaker Francis Lee and is set in 1840s England where we meet Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) covered in mud, digging into the craggy cliffs of her native Southern England shoreline searching for fossils. This is what she does every day as a self-taught fossil hunter and leading scientist of her day. Her petrified finds have been displayed in the finest of museum exhibits, although often credited to others (namely, men) because of her sex.

With the days of her biggest discoveries behind her, Mary tinkers daily inside her lab which doubles as a souvenir shop hocking cheap fossils to tourists as a means of providing a meager living for herself and her ailing mother (Gemma Jones, Sense and Sensibility). Unbeknownst to Mary, her life will undergo a drastic change when a dashing tourist named Roderick Murchison (James McArdle) arrives in Lyme Regis on the first leg of his European tour as amateur fossil hunter. He’s a right proper gentleman, so despite her reluctance, Mary agrees to take in and care for his young wife Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan) – for a hefty fee, of course – and let her tag along on Mary’s daily beach combing activities while he continues his trip abroad.

A sickly little waif of a thing, Charlotte is suffering with a wicked case of melancholia brought about by the loss of a baby. Remember, these were the early days of medicine when seaside air and relaxation were literally prescribed for whatever ails you. But naturally, Charlotte’s health doesn’t improve and the two women from different worlds clash on a daily basis; Mary at the thought of having to entertain Charlotte, and Charlotte at the thought of just having to get out of bed. However, “clash” is a relative term, and in a movie like Ammonite butting heads means basically ignoring one another for long stretches with not so much as a single word of dialogue. We get excited at the prospect of either character uttering something. Anything.Ammonite

Perhaps the glacial pacing wouldn’t feel so forced if we were given something from either of the film’s two leads. But as it is, we get very little in the way of potency from either. Though performing admirably, Winslet simply isn’t given enough from Lee’s script to do anything with, and Ronan’s Charlotte feels way too underdeveloped for us to sympathize with whatever it is she is going through. And when a passionate romance breaks out between the two, there’s barely enough chemistry there to make us forget the twenty years in age that separates the two. It all just feels a bit creepy.

Then there’s the problem with the much-talked-about sex scene. And no, not because it’s a lesbian sex scene. It’s the cumbersome way in which Lee gets us there. One minute Mary and Charlotte are in defiant ignorance of one another’s presence, and the next we are witnessing what Winslet meant when she famously said that lesbian sex isn’t like eating a sandwich. With everything else running at a snail’s pace, the romantic attraction feels rushed. We never learn enough about either character to understand the attraction, much less buy into the emotion. And for anyone interested in the film for the sole purpose of the sex scene, please understand; you have to look at a lot or rocks before you get to the good stuff.

That’s not to say there isn’t anything to like in Ammonite. There is. Particularly enjoyable is the visual impact of the stunning seaside setting that is enhanced by Johnnie Burn’s remarkably orchestrated sound design that immerses us in their richly textured world. But with its deliberate pacing and a runtime that feels every minute of two hours, Ammonite forces us to work way too hard to dig ourselves out from under the suffocating layers of fat and bulk.

2/5 stars



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MPAA Rating: R for graphic sexuality, some graphic nudity and brief language.
120 mins
: Francis Lee
Francis Lee
Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Jones
: Drama

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Release Date:
December 4, 2020
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Synopsis: 1840s England, acclaimed but overlooked fossil hunter Mary Anning and a young woman sent to convalesce by the sea develop an intense relationship, altering both of their lives forever.


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