The biopic is one of cinema’s most beloved types of story to tell. The “based on a true story” title card implies an added layer of authenticity to what takes place on screen which attracts inquisitive audience members, such as myself, and quite often reflects well at the box office and during awards season. One such biopic that looks to make an impact this awards season is Francis Lee’s Ammonite.
The film tells the story of Mary Anning, a palaeontologist from Dorset whose career hasn’t gone exactly as she had hoped. We meet her at a time in her life where she spends her days selling souvenirs to tourists, when one day, a customer asks her to look after his grieving wife whilst he travels Europe for 6 weeks. Mary wants nothing to do with this woman, however with her financial situation being dangerously close to poverty; this is an offer she can’t refuse and she reluctantly cares for the girl. Eventually, Mary starts to grow fond of the girl; however, the more they get to know one another, the further their feelings venture away from the platonic and into the romantic.
Ammonite is a very character driven film as all of Francis Lee’s efforts go towards developing the relationship between Mary, played by Kate Winslet, and Charlotte Murchison, played by Saoirse Ronan. Although this is the right approach to take for an intimate forbidden love story such as this, I can’t help but feel that Lee is far too reliant on his actress’ and should’ve beefed the script up a bit. Lee is fortunate to have two of the UK’s finest actress’ starring in his film, however the script is rather bare bones for much of its runtime and it is left for Ronan and especially Winslet to carry Ammonite on their shoulders.
Fortunately Kate Winslet does take the weight of Ammonite on her shoulders and carries it, hopefully all the way to the academy awards, as her performance is exceptional. Easily the highlight of Ammonite, Winslet shines as Mary Anning with an internalized and nuanced performance that draws you into her character and thus the film as a whole. Saoirse Ronan is also excellent as always, however it is Kate Winslet’s performance that carries much of Ammonite to success.
Overall, Ammonite is a character centric, yet ultimately barebones period romance that is saved from mundanity by an absolute acting masterclass from Kate Winslet. Francis Lee has the right approach to Ammonite; however, it is largely down to Winslet, Ronan and their on screen chemistry to maintain audience interest, as Lee writes and directs a fairly average period romance. Fortunately, Winslet and Ronan rise to the challenge as I wouldn’t be surprised to see them gaining another Oscar nomination for their efforts, but I do not think this film will compete anywhere else. I encourage people to watch Ammonite, even if it is largely for Winslet and Ronan’s acting efforts.
Ammonite does not yet have a UK release date