British director Francis Lee follows his sumptuous gay romance God’s Own Country with a period lesbian romance that feels like it’s at a disadvantage thanks to the still-roaring flames stoked by Céline Sciamma’s sumptuous Portrait Of A Lady On Fire. Set in 1840s England, Ammonite chronicles the intense relationship between real-life reclusive fossil hunter Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) and a young woman, Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan), who is sent to convalesce by the sea in order to overcome a recent trauma.
Its chilly charms are unavoidably reminiscent of Sciamma’s masterpiece, and while the central performances are superb, the romance at the heart of Ammonite feels too abrupt and the themes are often signposted a bit too clearly. Lee, who isn’t keen on exploring romance in the usual sense, keeps the audience at a distance by focusing on daily life’s rhythms, motions and sounds: it’s an atmospherically fascinating choice, but the the emotions are at times too restrained. It’s not without its merits and the acting alone is worth the price of admission, with Winslet and Ronan proving once again that they’re incapable of delivering poor performances. It’s just a shame the end result, beautifully sensorial though it is, doesn’t linger in the mind as much as it could have.
Ammonite / D: Francis Lee (UK, 2020), with Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan. Starts: November 04.