AMMONITE has been my most anticipated movie of the year and somehow it is even better than I could have hoped for. Writer-director Francis Lee shows his magnificent filmmaking talent through this masterpiece that explores the delicate complexities of love; the brilliant composition of each shot in the scene adds so much more to the storyline than even dialogue can. But the film’s real standout is the acting, particularly Kate Winslet, who gives one of the best performances of her career. I know some may be talking about this film for having the most beautiful intimate scenes ever on-screen, but it is so much more than that.
It’s almost impossible to write a review for AMMONITE because it’s difficult to describe a film that perfectly encapsulates the finest elements of filmmaking, those that made me fall in love with the art form to begin with, but I tried my best!
AMMONITE is a fictional interpretation of the life Mary Anning (Winslet), a real-life British paleontologist that discovered the ichthyosaur and coprolites (aka fossilized dinosaur poop) but was ostracized from the scientific community because of her gender. Mary lives a rather isolated and monotonous life in the colorless seaside town of Lyme Regis, waking up early each day to comb the beaches and climb the dangerous cliffs to find fossils that are regularly exposed during mudslides. To keep a meager helping of food on the table, Mary and her mother (Gemma Jones) sell fossils to men who will inevitably claim credit for Mary’s finds. And on top of that, Mary, the greatest paleontologist of her generation, is forced to use those brilliant hands to fashion shells into tchotchke gift items for tourists.
Most of Mary’s life is spent in silence. Even dinners with her mother are emotionless, with the cracking of an egg as the only sound to permeate the quiet. But all of that changes when amateur paleontologist Roderick Murchision (James McArdle) comes into Mary’s shop one day with his wife Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan), hoping to learn about fossils from the master. Mary begrudgingly spends time training him on what to look out for, again having to “sell out” to put food on the table, but is taken aback when Roderick asks her to look after his melancholic wife when he goes abroad. What starts as an inconvenience for Mary slowly (AND I MEAN SLOWLY!) builds into an exploration of love, bringing Mary further out of her shell (no pun intended) than she has been before. Mary begins to see herself through Charlotte’s eyes, reinvigorating her sense of self-worth and outstanding accomplishments.
Lee shows his mastery of filmmaking by giving the film a sense of place through its bleak and grey (yet still beautiful) cinematography, which is a perfect parallel to the reserved nature of his main character. Mary’s isolation is shown to not only be in her relationship with others but in the dreary environment she lives and works in every single day.
Lee is able to tell so much about Mary through his focus on her hands and how they symbolize her adoration and dedication, first to her work and then to her lover. When we first meet Mary, her hands are weathered and muddy, obvious evidence of her daily work digging through the muck to find her beloved fossils. But when Mary begins to fall for Charlotte, it is her hands that are the first to give her away, first by holding Charlotte’s hand at a concert and then splayed on her corset when they kiss for the first time. If you couldn’t already tell, I could write a novel on the imagery of hands in this film alone.
AMMONITE is the perfect example of show, don’t tell, as Lee’s script trusts the audience to understand the film’s action without relying on unnecessary dialogue to move the story along. I particularly love the choice to slowly draw out the backstory of Mary’s relationship with Elizabeth (Fiona Shaw). The wordless scene of Mary watching Elizabeth and Charlotte interact during a concert is so intense, I thought I was going to jump out of my seat! Lee allows you to make these discoveries instead of stating them in expositional dialogue. This restraint symbolizes Mary’s own reservations when it comes to interacting with the outside world, her repressed sexuality, and erasure from the history books when her important discoveries continue to be attributed to men.
If you know me, you know I am a Kate Winslet diehard and admittedly cannot be objective when it comes to her films. HOWEVER, because I am such a fan and expert on her career, doesn’t it pack an even bigger punch when I say this is one of Kate’s best performances? This whole film REVOLVES around Kate’s ability to bring so much out of this reserved character, telling more in her body language and expressions than in her dialogue. It is obvious she put all of herself in this role and embodies Mary from the accent down to the way she carries herself from scene to scene. The evolution of her character from the closed-off woman we meet at the beginning of the film to one that has made place in her life for love again is a truly remarkable character arc. If Kate doesn’t get nominated for this film, I don’t know what else an actor is supposed to do. She is at the absolute top of her game.
Saoirse Ronan is also incredible in the film, particularly as her character provides an energetic yin to Kate’s restrained yang. Saoirse’s slow-burn chemistry with Kate is next-level and when their characters finally come together, I literally squealed from my seat. Although the two characters meet within the first fifteen minutes of the film, it isn’t until at least halfway through that they begin opening up to each other. And this tension buildup of Mary starting to let down her guard and Charlotte discovering her independence and feelings made the characters’ first kiss even more exhilarating.
AMMONITE is easily the best movie I have seen this year and I can’t wait to go see it again. I didn’t even get into how much I loved Lee’s depiction of the overarching patriarchal society that was repressing Mary’s sexuality and stealing her discoveries for their own credit, but that is for my next novel. If there is any movie that is worth going back to theaters for, it is AMMONITE… but lucky you! You only have to wait until December 4th to rent it from the comfort of your home. So please, whatever you do, see and support this movie. You won’t regret it.
My Review: A+