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Movie Review | Ammonite: Winslet & Ronan shine in sensitive film

Ammonite: The idea of setting up a same-sex romance between two women in 19th century England holds appeal

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Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan play out an intense romance in Francis Lee’s bleak new arthouse effort that weaves fiction and speculation into a fabric of facts.

Lee’s script is based in England of the 1800s and narrates the story of Mary Anning (Winslet), a fossil collector and palaeontologist who gained fame for her fossil findings along the English Channel. Lee borrows from an unsubstantiated slice of Mary’s life to set up his narrative.

As the film begins, Mary is struggling to make ends meet. She has seen better days professionally, and when a wealthy geologist approaches Mary to entrust her with the job of looking after his ailing wife Charlotte (Ronan) while he is away on tour, she cannot afford to say no. He also purchases an ammonite that Mary found at the sea shore.

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Lee’s storytelling primarily revolves around the two women, and he has invested a lot of effort in drawing up emotional details. Absorbing as the relationship drama is, one does notice an imbalance of sort in the characterisation of the two protagonists.

Winslet gets to essay Mary as a weather-beaten survivor, almost battered by the ravages of time. It is almost as if Lee finds a likeness between the character and the fossils she deals with — worn out and yet quietly bearing every storm. It is an absorbing character sketch, richly rendered by a master actress in what is definitely her most consummate performance in years.

Ronan’s Charlotte, in comparison, could appear underwritten, considering the impact she will actually leave in the plot. We don’t get a complete idea of who Charlotte really is. Ronan, however, makes Charlotte immensely fascinating, bringing alive every twist of her persona with understated ease.

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The idea of setting up a same-sex romance between two women in 19th century England holds appeal, and Lee lets the impact soak into his audience’s minds at an unhurried pace. It is a romance between two very unlikely lovers, given their socio-cultural and economic positions. The chasm facilitates an acute depiction of passion and the two leads strike up a chemistry that renders resonance to the tale.

The aura of gloom about the film would seem deliberate, meant to quietly underline the melancholy about Mary’s existence. “Ammonite” was never meant to be a happy film, and Stephane Fontaine’s camerawork along with Chris Wyatt’s editing brings alive that idea in the frames. Visually, the film is crafted to convey what a woman had to strive against, because she chose to be different professionally and personally in England of yore. Much like the titular ammonite, Mary’s life is cold and grey.

Ammonite | Cast: Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Jones, James McArdle | Direction: Francis Lee

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By Vinayak Chakravorty

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