The Beach House (2020) | SHUDDER
Ammonite caught my attention right away. It has two of my favorite actors: Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan. Plus, it’s a sapphic romance period piece which is right up my alley. I was excited to see it and wondered how the chemistry would be between Winslet and Ronan. I was hoping for a gripping and intense romance akin to Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
The only other feature film on writer and director Francis Lee’s resume is God’s Own Country, which is another LGBT story about a sheep farmer who strikes up a relationship with a migrant worker. I didn’t have the chance to watch that, so I went in pretty blind in terms of Lee’s style. Ammonite didn’t have a lot of emphatic directorial moments. Lee chooses to play things pretty subtle, opting for long looks between Ronan and Winslet to convey the message of the movie. There are some pretty shots, but nothing truly breathtaking. Lee doesn’t do anything outstanding or unique, but he also doesn’t do anything to tank the movie either.
Ammonite is set in the 1840s in England, and much of it takes place by the sea. Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) is a fossil collector and palaeontologist . Anning is in fact a real person and was well known in England for her finding of an Ichthyosaurs. In the movie, Anning is prickly and anti-social. She keeps to herself and spends most of her days by the sea hunting for specimens she can sell in her fossil shop. One day a gentleman, Roderick Murchison (James McArdle), enters the store with his wife Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan). Charlotte suffers from melancholia and has been prescribed fresh air and bathing in the sea. Roderick pays Mary to let Charlotte follow her while she does her work on the beach. From there the relationship between Mary and Charlotte slowly unfolds. There are moments of annoyance and rudeness between the two but there are also moments of fun. Charlotte seems to be the only one who can get Mary to loosen up. The plot is slow moving as you watch their romance unfurl.
Not The Fireworks I Had Expected
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
When you have Oscar winner Kate Winslet and four time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan in scenes together you know the acting will be good. Winslet plays the awkward and lonely Mary to perfection. Her love of fossils and her dedication to her work shines through the scenes where she painstakingly works with her hands to unearth the fossils. Her longing for connection and her surprise when she finds it makes you root for her even if you don’t like her. Ronan is perfect as Charlotte, a young woman whose husband won’t even let her order her own dinner. Her longing for a bit of independence and being treated as an equal is evident from the start. She sees something in Mary that no one else does and it was interesting to watch her settle into herself. The two ladies didn’t have a whole lot to work with in terms of dialogue, but they make it worthwhile to watch despite this.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The music wasn’t particularly memorable in Ammonite. In fact, I don’t really recall much music at all. The roaring waves of the sea were constantly in the background of most scenes, as much of it takes place on the beach. The sound design was adequate, but nothing to be too enthused about here.
Being set in the 1800s, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for visual effects, but the makeup and design was spot on. The wardrobe and makeup added important details to each character in the movie. Mary was usually plain faced and wearing dresses that were rather dowdy. Charlotte was always dressed to the nines in nice dresses and always had her hair done. Mary’s wardrobe and appearance was about practicality while Charlotte’s was more fashion and dressing up. That aspect of the movie was rather well done and contributed to the development of the characters in a positive way.
Ammonite was not as good as I wanted it to be. With two powerhouse actors in Winslet and Ronan I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t as impactful as I had hoped. There was some chemistry between the two, but not the fireworks I had expected. The plot was a little slow moving and there were a lot of subtle glances that didn’t exactly convey the longing that Lee undoubtedly hoped. However, Winslet and Ronan still give admirable performances and make the characters interesting enough to hold your attention. It was refreshing to watch a film where two women are the central focus, and if you like sapphic romances then you’ll want to watch this one. Despite its flaws, Ammonite is still a film worth watching.
AMMONITE - In Theaters (11.13.20) | Digital & VOD (12.04.20)