Ammonite – Uncut Stone and Jewel

REVIEW
by Violetta Efimova
17.11.2020
Proceeding the main gay-centered line of his debut God's Own Country (2017), in Ammonite (2020) director Francis Lee turns to a lesbian drama about real people and not necessarily real events.
In his second feature Lee still sticks not merely to the delicate problem of same-sex love, but to inclement outer shell that this love has to exist in. On the Southern English coastline lies a small town Lyme Regis, prominent for its brutal and indomitable nature: gloomy and windy landscapes, sharp rocks ominously beetled over the raging sea. Despite this, the place has always been considered a tasty morsel for paleontologists seeking ammonites — extinct mollusks that fossilized into intricate spiral-shaped shells.
This is what Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) has
been doing her entire life. Local reputation fell abruptly on her when 12-year-old girl Mary once found a skeleton which was later bought and exhibited in the British museum. Though this sporadic success didn't foreshadow careless life: all the laurels are forgotten and Mary is left alone with ailing mother and doing nothing but still searching for ammonites and selling them to tourists in a small shop of her own.
Over time, it seemed as if Mary had turned into a stone herself: an unsociable middle-aged woman, she is utterly in line with the sternness of the landscape surrounding her. Sombre sceneries of Mary's course of life are unexpectedly intruded by the appearance of the wealthy baronet Roderick Murchison (James McArdle) with his wife Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan). Murchinson, who in reality was a geologist himself, begs Anning to give him private lessons of seeking ammonites. After some unsuccessful attempts he gives it up and this time asks Mary of another favor — to keep an eye on Charlotte (who seemingly has endured a personal tragedy and now goes through recovery) while he has to leave for business trips for a month. Plagued by doubts, Mary doesn't crave for nursing some melancholic girl, but the reward is high enough. Eventually, she assents to the deal, and here the story of two women from different worlds commences.

Initially Mary keeps coldness towards Charlotte who also shows no interest in getting to know each other better, but the ice breaks when the latter falls down with fever, putting her life at risk. At the urgent request of Dr. Lieberson (Alec Secăreanu) Mary spends most of her time near Charlotte's bed (that is originally Mary's one, but the woman has to sleep on a chair for the guest's comfort). After the convalescence Charlotte, wishing to show her gratitude, does her best to become good friends with her rescuer. These efforts yield even more than just female friendship — they evolve into a female romance.

The affair, manifesting itself in both women's conduct, becomes utterly overt after the musical evening that Mary and Charlotte attend together. This is the scene where Kate Winslet's acting talent truly sparkles — splendidly and intimidatingly at the same time. Mary's piercing glance at Charlotte chatting nicely with Anning's neighbor Elizabeth Philpot (Fiona Shaw) in the other corner of the music room is nothing but a medley of rage and jealousy, so any stormy reaction is foreseeable, but not the one which Anning eventually has — she mutely leaves. Already at home Charlotte's phrase about Mary being the most fascinating person on that evening unexpectedly gives the older woman courage to confess her feelings in a more intimate way — kissing.
Even with such a partner as Kate Winslet, whose acting has always been free of any obstacles to daring and sometimes sexually explicit roles, Saoirse Ronan isn't inferior to her in the slightest. Having dozens of film works under her belt, in Ammonite Ronan makes a personal and courageous breakthrough as the appearance in the very first nude scene of her stage career. By and large, Charlotte's personality evolves from an arrogant baroness moping around to despairingly enamored lass who runs to extremes of asking her beloved one to live together, even given Charlotte's actual marriage to Roderick.
As a screenwriter, Lee incorporates a seemingly minuscule, but noteworthy (and, perhaps, praiseworthy) detail that momentarily catches the eye — abnormally small amount of conversations, at least diffuse ones. Indeed, what's the use of talking for two women from completely different worlds who involuntarily found in each other salvage from internal loneliness? This irrelevance is supplemented by the visual palette of Ammonite which utterly defines the local inhabitants — living in gloomy and gray landscapes of Lyme Regis, as stiff as their domicile, these people are not used to verbosity.

Even after the story comes to its end, Lee leaves some questions unanswered. What was the tragedy that Charlotte was taking so hard? The phrase "It's not the right time to make another baby" thrown by Roderick to his wife prompts a thought about something ghastly that's happened to the couple's child whether they're still alive or not, which, most likely, caused such a malady and chilled their relationships, but it's never mentioned neither by Charlotte, nor by her husband. Albeit Francis Lee considered significant not the reason but the grief itself, such an innuendo creates a specific aura of an unsolved mystery.
Still, Ammonite is a story that blends fact and legend. The plot is concentrated on real individuals, but artistically transposed in the modernity, by doing so satisfying the requirements of the present-day society. There's no real evidence of that intimacy between Anning and Murchinson, as well as of their interest in same-sex love, but the director's intention certainly succeeded in arousing pry to these people's lives and their place in science history.
 
Ammonite – Uncut Stone and Jewel
REVIEW
by Violetta Efimova
17.11.2020
Proceeding the main gay-centered line of his debut God's Own Country (2017), in Ammonite (2020) director Francis Lee turns to a lesbian drama about real people and not necessarily real events.
In his second feature Lee still sticks not merely to the delicate problem of same-sex love, but to inclement outer shell that this love has to exist in. On the Southern English coastline lies a small town Lyme Regis, prominent for its brutal and indomitable nature: gloomy and windy landscapes, sharp rocks ominously beetled over the raging sea. Despite this, the place has always been considered a tasty morsel for paleontologists seeking ammonites — extinct mollusks that fossilized into intricate spiral-shaped shells.

This is what Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) has been doing her entire life. Local reputation fell abruptly on her when 12-year-old girl Mary once found a skeleton which was later bought and exhibited in the British museum. Though this sporadic success didn't foreshadow careless life: all the laurels are forgotten and Mary is left alone with ailing mother and doing nothing but still searching for ammonites and selling them to tourists in a small shop of her own.
Over time, it seemed as if Mary had turned into a stone herself: an unsociable middle-aged woman, she is utterly in line with the sternness of the landscape surrounding her. Sombre sceneries of Mary's course of life are unexpectedly intruded by the appearance of the wealthy baronet Roderick Murchison (James McArdle) with his wife Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan). Murchinson, who in reality was a geologist himself, begs Anning to give him private lessons of seeking ammonites. After some unsuccessful attempts he gives it up and this time asks Mary of another favor — to keep an eye on Charlotte (who seemingly has endured a personal tragedy and now goes through recovery) while he has to leave for business trips for a month. Plagued by doubts, Mary doesn't crave for nursing some melancholic girl, but the reward is high enough. Eventually, she assents to the deal, and here the story of two women from different worlds commences.

Initially Mary keeps coldness towards Charlotte who also shows no interest in getting to know each other better, but the ice breaks when the latter falls down with fever, putting her life at risk. At the urgent request of Dr. Lieberson (Alec Secăreanu) Mary spends most of her time near Charlotte's bed (that is originally Mary's one, but the woman has to sleep on a chair for the guest's comfort). After the convalescence Charlotte, wishing to show her gratitude, does her best to become good friends with her rescuer. These efforts yield even more than just female friendship — they evolve into a female romance.

The affair, manifesting itself in both women's conduct, becomes utterly overt after the musical evening that Mary and Charlotte attend together. This is the scene where Kate Winslet's acting talent truly sparkles — splendidly and intimidatingly at the same time. Mary's piercing glance at Charlotte chatting nicely with Anning's neighbor Elizabeth Philpot (Fiona Shaw) in the other corner of the music room is nothing but a medley of rage and jealousy, so any stormy reaction is foreseeable, but not the one which Anning eventually has — she mutely leaves. Already at home Charlotte's phrase about Mary being the most fascinating person on that evening unexpectedly gives the older woman courage to confess her feelings in a more intimate way — kissing.
Even with such a partner as Kate Winslet, whose acting has always been free of any obstacles to daring and sometimes sexually explicit roles, Saoirse Ronan isn't inferior to her in the slightest. Having dozens of film works under her belt, in Ammonite Ronan makes a personal and courageous breakthrough as the appearance in the very first nude scene of her stage career. By and large, Charlotte's personality evolves from an arrogant baroness moping around to despairingly enamored lass who runs to extremes of asking her beloved one to live together, even given Charlotte's actual marriage to Roderick.

As a screenwriter, Lee incorporates a seemingly minuscule, but noteworthy (and, perhaps, praiseworthy) detail that momentarily catches the eye — abnormally small amount of conversations, at least diffuse ones. Indeed, what's the use of talking for two women from completely different worlds who involuntarily found in each other salvage from internal loneliness? This irrelevance is supplemented by the visual palette of Ammonite which utterly defines the local inhabitants — living in gloomy and gray landscapes of Lyme Regis, as stiff as their domicile, these people are not used to verbosity.

Even after the story comes to its end, Lee leaves some questions unanswered. What was the tragedy that Charlotte was taking so hard? The phrase "It's not the right time to make another baby" thrown by Roderick to his wife prompts a thought about something ghastly that's happened to the couple's child whether they're still alive or not, which, most likely, caused such a malady and chilled their relationships, but it's never mentioned neither by Charlotte, nor by her husband. Albeit Francis Lee considered significant not the reason but the grief itself, such an innuendo creates a specific aura of an unsolved mystery.
Still, Ammonite is a story that blends fact and legend. The plot is concentrated on real individuals, but artistically transposed in the modernity, by doing so satisfying the requirements of the present-day society. There's no real evidence of that intimacy between Anning and Murchinson, as well as of their interest in same-sex love, but the director's intention certainly succeeded in arousing pry to these people's lives and their place in science history.
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