A lesbian romance turns rocky
At their greatest, biopics shine mild on unjustly ignored historic figures. Mary Anning, performed by Kate Winslet in “Ammonite,” matches the invoice: A feminine, working-class fossil collector within the early nineteenth century, when the sector was virtually solely the province of rich males, she’s now famend for her groundbreaking discoveries of Jurassic-era marine skeletons.
However this movie from director Francis Lee (“God’s Personal Nation”) nudges Anning’s legacy to the facet, specializing in her halting romance with a depressed younger spouse (Saoirse Ronan) who’s been pawned off on Anning, for an unofficial apprenticeship, by a bored husband (James McArdle). Being a lesbian interval piece, the movie’s earned inevitable comparisons to final yr’s “Portrait of a Woman on Hearth.” Certain, it’s related, minus the chemistry, humor and pleasure. There are undoubtedly corsets in each.
Winslet is riveting as at all times, although, as a work-obsessed misanthrope who finds calcified feces extra attention-grabbing than the vacationers who go to her store within the British city of Lyme Regis. Lee’s naturalist model makes Anning’s forays to the seashore intensely visceral; you are feeling the nippiness of the grey clay she claws by looking for cliffside treasures.
Ronan dials down her vivaciousness to play Charlotte Murchison, affected by “melancholia” that, the movie suggests, stems from shedding a child. (Murchison was additionally an actual particular person, who grew to become a geologist, and was certainly pals with Anning.) Each ladies curl into themselves, like Anning’s spiral ammonite mollusk fossils. If that metaphor sounds obtrusive, it’s. A tenuous friendship grows between the 2, however their graphic erotic collisions are so sudden — and so dissonant — that they really feel extra startling than satisfying.
The good Fiona Shaw seems as a neighbor with whom, it’s prompt, Anning might need had a short-lived relationship, and Gemma Jones is haunting as Anning’s aged mom, whose odd conduct makes extra sense while you study she misplaced eight of her 10 youngsters.
All of the items are right here for “Ammonite” to work as an introspective have a look at ladies’s lives, and love, in a male-centric period. However Lee’s grim tone is relentless, and I’m curious why: He’s invented a queer relationship the place there’s no historic proof for one. Why not let it take flight, then, somewhat than leaving it caught within the mud?
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