It is time to rename the London Film Festival the Lesbian Film Festival because once again our favourite movie of the series was all about the women. Last year it was the skin clawing religious creeper Saint Maud and the ode to life long love of the Two of Us. This year it’s the aptly named Ammonite where love chips away at the heart of 19th century paleontologist Mary Anning whose feelings have been locked in stone for too long.
There are no villains in Ammonite. There does not need to be any. Life is hard enough for Mary (Kate Winslet) scrabbling by on the sea shore digging out fossils against a backdrop of the unforgiving waves of Lyme Regis. Living with her sick mother she is seemingly the only child who survived of ten siblings. Once noted for her contribution to her scientific field she is largely forgotten save for the occasional visit from wealthy but amateur enthusiasts. Wrapped up in her own fascinations and blunt manner she seems to find the presence of others unbearable.
Into her life comes Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan) who is convalescing after the death of her child. At first Charlotte’s melancholy matches the dourness of Mary but as she recovers the lively, charismatic woman that she once was returns. This rekindling sets off a chain reaction in Mary. Mary’s only friend, and previous lover, Elizabeth (Fiona Shaw) wonders at how Charlotte has been able to unlock something in Mary that she never could.
Love is never discussed but it is beautifully and originally presented. The closest Mary comes to vocalising her love is a dirty limerick that she entertains Charlotte with. “There was a young woman called Sally, Who liked the occasional dally, She sat on the lap, Of a well endowed chap, And said Oooh you’re right up my alley’ . It’s in character with her blunt lack of sentiment and is part of the charm that only Charlotte really sees. Charlotte also never uses words of love but when she gives the most heartfelt glowing testimony of Mary’s scientific endeavours to a stranger in a shop it is evident that she is entranced by this unique woman.
In contrast with the absence of Shakespearean odes of love to one another Ammonite gives us a pounding authentic sex scene. Petticoats fly as they devour each other. It is rollicking. We cheered on the actresses going at it hammer and tongues and director Francis Lee for delivering something that was neither voyeuristic nor soft focused. Like a lump of coal suddenly blazing into flame it genuinely revealed a necessary element of Mary’s hidden spirit.
Impeccable performances from Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan are played out across grim beaches, grey skies and a chill that shivers out from the screen. As a long winter of covid grimaces towards us it is the right time to appreciate a spark appearing in a dark landscape
Review by ANDREW HEBDEN
Queerguru Contributing Editor ANDREW HEBDEN is a MEDIA & CULTURAL STUDIES graduate spending his career between London, Beijing and NYC as an expert in media and social trends. As part of the expanding minimalist FIRE movement he recently returned to the UK and lives in Soho. He devotes as much time as possible to the movies, theatre and the gym. His favorite thing is to try something (anything) new every day.
P.S. ANDREW HEBDEN reviewed AMMONITE at BFI Festival in London (they are a producing partner of the film) and It is now being screened across the UK. In the US Ammonite was the opening night film at NEWFEST in NY and is scheduled to be released November 19th 2020