REVIEW: Romance in ‘Ammonite’ has a spark, but never ignites

Two Oscar caliber actresses lend their talents to the screen in “Ammonite,” but what they have to work with doesn’t live up to their abilities.

“Ammonite” is the sophomore feature directing effort by Francis Lee. Taking place in the 1840s, the film follows the fossil researcher Mary Anning, who works along the shores to find preserved animals, like Ammonites. It’s quickly shown that Anning mostly keeps to herself, as the only company she has is her mother played by Gemma Jones.

However, one day a man fascinated by Mary’s work visits her office. After the’re introduced, he suggests his wife Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan) observe Mary’s work and research as a way to alleviate the young woman’s depression. As the two spend more time together, Mary and Charlotte begin to form a relationship.

“Ammonite” is no doubt a beautiful film to look at with some tender moments, but it doesn’t truly excel as a romantic drama. The slow burn romance featured here is a little too slow over the two hour runtime, and doesn’t truly captivate a viewer.

Despite having the ingredients in place for something sensational, “Ammonite” isn’t satisfying. There’s a distinct lack of passion in the romance and the world around the two lead characters that causes much of the goodwill toward the picture to evaporate over time.

That doesn’t mean the movie isn’t watchable. There’s a serviceable romantic tale offered that is compelling enough to hook a viewer in all the way to the finish. In telling the story the movie also explores themes of patriarchal systems that impacted women both professionally and in relationships during that era.

AMMONITESaoirse Ronan and Kate Winslet
Courtesy LionsGate

Yet the elements that are the stars of the show, the romance and fine tuned work of Anning, a real historical figure, never evoke strong feelings. The relationship should be one that can grip an audience and viewers should be left in admiration of the precise work of Anning, but this doesn’t  happen.

The characters feel too subdued, even as they begin to grow fond of each other and open up more of themselves. Winslet and Ronan are of course phenomenal actresses yet they feel more reserved than what’s needed. There’s also a noticeable lack of chemistry between the two performers.

Winslet’s portrayal is more understandable, considering her character is mostly consumed by her work and keeps to her self. Winslet sells that nicely, but one wishes the fire her character has under the surface was brought out more.

Ronan, meanwhile, plays a character who needed to be more dimensional. Although, Ronan does add a certain charm to the role.

One character that is absolutely a weaker part of the picture is Mary’s mother Molly. The character is shockingly lacking in almost any personality and it’s unfortunate that Jones has such little to do in the role.

A definite highlight of the film is the cinematography by director of photography Stephane Fontaine, who also did superb work for 2016’s “Jackie.” Whether it be moments of intimacy or sequences in beautiful natural settings where the characters are researching fossils, Fontaine artistically captures beautiful images.

“Ammonite” overall is a fine feature but considering what it had going for it, this should have had much more of an impact. The cast and crew deliver enough to warrant a 3 out of 5, but not higher.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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