'Ammonite' Review: Kate Winslet & Saoirse Ronan Burn Slow But Do It Together
''Now, open your mouth wide as you can, darling. Here is your yearly dose of women in dresses loving women in dresses while being on the seashore. That's your favourite, innit?'' Directed and written by Francis Lee in his sophomore outing, Ammonite is here to serve you the romantic drama dish that you've been so dearly missing for, you know, some months.
Kate Winslet stars as palaeontologist Mary Anning living in a seaside town of Lyme, England in the 1840s. Following some outside interest in her work, Mary eventually gets approached by geologist Roderick Murchison (James McArdle) to look after his young wife Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan), who is grieving an apparent loss of their baby, while he travels to Europe. After Charlotte's physical breakdown that leaves her bedridden and being taken care of by Mary, the two end up going to the beach in the mornings to collect fossils and spending time together otherwise too, eventually developing romantic feelings toward each other.
Just like the couple's romance, the film itself is a slow-burner too. Technically it is at times expressive and striking, sometimes letting the actors take the space so magic can be done but it can also be cold as the wind outside of Mary's home which keeps the viewer distanced from the story. Winslet and Ronan are both delivering at the very least the necessary in every scene while Winslet does a bit better with taking her time in the quiet moments, of which there are plenty. Mary is quite an isolated character and a worse actor would overplay that by twitching or hunkering down but Winslet does it by simply looking away or down at the right moments, also building tension between Mary and Charlotte that is yelling to be broken. Much of the technical discourse about the film has been about the costumes but the hair department's work is equally if not more deserving of praise, especially with Charlotte's coiffure.
While throwing a shout to the hairstyling, it's also good to mention the subtle but immersive effort of the sound editors. The waves, winds and rain are always present until everything calms down between the tender moments between Mary and Charlotte, creating external pressure for their relationship. Subtle it is though and without the theatrical experience and sound system you might miss it altogether. Something that isn't that subtle is the slightly distant feeling you are left with at the end of Ammonite. A big part of it is the clunky and even unresponsive dialogue. Lee is going for the ''silent but effective'' approach but the story just doesn't flow because the lines are so dull, when they rarely appear, that I even chuckled at a couple of them. It makes the scenes a few seconds too long and leaves the audience waiting for a release that never comes, including the teasing final shot.
Smileys: Sound editing, Kate Winslet, hairstyling
Frowneys: Dialogue, atmosphere
''Ammo-stay-the-nite with you, Mary, if that's okay?'', said Charlotte after collapsing.