Ammonite (MA) - 117 minutes
An introspective, slow-moving, largely grim, period drama about a life’s calling and desire, Ammonite features two of the finest actors of a generation.
It is the 1840s and highly regarded fossil hunter Mary Anning’s (Kate Winslet) famed discoveries are behind her.
She works alone in Lyme Regis in West Dorset, on the rugged Southern British coastline.
Anning now searches for common fossils to sell to tourists to support herself and her ailing mother, Molly (Gemma Jones).
They share a rudimentary home.
Both are stern and dour.
Anning immerses herself in her work.
Her social skills are not her strong suit.
One day a well-to-do, arrogant man, Roderick Murchison (James McArdle), sets foot in her shop, wanting to buy one of her pieces and learn the finer points of how she works and what she sees while observing Anning on the beach.
She reluctantly agrees.
He is on an archaeological tour of the continent.
After a miscarriage, his young wife, Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan), is suffering from melancholia and he determines she is in no fit state to go on with him.
So, he prevails upon Anning to watch her for up to six weeks.
Again, Anning is none too keen, but relents.
Charlotte becomes ill – developing a high fever and is bed ridden – after taking a dip in the ocean.
The new foreign doctor Lieberson (Alec Secareanu) in town implores Anning to look after her and take good care of her, which she does.
Upon Charlotte’s recovery, the dynamic between the women changes and gradually we also come to learn snippets of Anning’s past.
With dialogue kept to a minimum, it is the silences, expressions and body language that speak volumes in Ammonite.
Kate Winslet mastered that artform long ago and is at her finest in the lead role here.
Saoirse Ronan has less to do, but ensures there’s a transformation in her characterisation of Charlotte.
The way the moments of passion between Anning and Charlotte have been shot by cinematographer Stephane Fontaine is hypnotic and alluring.
With one withering look after another, Gemma Jones is unforgettable as the poker-faced Molly.
The soundscape by sound designer Johnnie Burn is also central to the success of the picture, capturing the natural environment – most notably the wind and sea – where Anning lives and works.
Francis Lee, who created such impact with his keenly observed first feature God’s Own Country (2017), has crafted another intelligent, reflective work in which nuance is critical.
He is clearly a deep thinker, as reflected by the careful staging of scenes again in Ammonite, many involving stone and candlelight.
He has a fine attention to detail.
Ammonite is a picture that should appeal to film purists.
Incidentally, the name of the film is drawn from the fossil ammonite, which appears in marine rocks.
Rated MA, the movie scores a 7½ to 8 out of 10.