Francis Lee usually writes and directs character studies that focus on small people and small places. He takes these people and places and puts a microscope on them. Normally, nobody would care about the subject matter, but his deft hand brings out the character of said people and places. Ammonite is Francis Lee at his most precise. He doubles down on two main characters and a nondescript location most couldn’t find on a map.
The two main characters are played by two heavyweights in the acting landscape. Kate Winslet has been nominated for seven Academy Awards and won one for The Reader. Saoirse Ronan has been nominated for four Academy Awards in her young career, and while she has yet to win one, she probably will one day. These two incredible actresses knew what they were signing up for with this film and with Francis Lee directing. These are the kinds of roles most actresses would dream of playing in their careers.
Winslet plays a paleontologist in 1840’s England. She is just running her little shop while taking care of her mother. One day, a gentleman comes along who’s interested in her services. He wants her to take care of his ailing wife who has a bout of melancholia. They eventually spark up a friendly relationship with one another. This was an unexpected outcome for both women.
This film has a lot of silence in it. The dialogue is very limited. Lee used other ways to get emotion and what the women are thinking out of the actresses. Subtle eye movement and hand gestures get across a lot of what these women are thinking and feeling. Eventually, all the foreplay and silence leads to one of the most sensual scenes in movie history. These two giants in the industry strip away all their inhibitions and just go at it. A scene that was long in coming from the start of the film. This scene pays off all the waiting while watching these incredible actresses do their best to express everything in the script, with and without dialogue.
Stephanie Fontaine and Sarah Finley both deserve awards consideration for their stellar work as cinematographer and production designer. The vistas that Fontaine creates are marvelous to behold. Capturing this period couldn’t have been easy for Finley either. The streets and docks looked real as real gets. Also the costume designer, Michael O’Connor deserves a round of applause as well. The dresses and clothes from every member of the cast looked as authentic as possible.
Lee and the cast and crew turned what could have been a rip-off of Portrait of a Lady on Fire into a beautiful character study of these two women, both very different from one another, but find common ground once thrust together. This film stands on its own as a beautiful piece of cinema. It could be misconstrued as boring or lifeless. It’s not! Both Winslet and Ronan deserve awards consideration once again for their stellar performances. In a stacked year that might be difficult for one or the other. It’s good to see different kinds of films and not the same cookie-cutter things that always litter the cineplexes.
4 1/2 stars
Dan Skip Allen
Sean BoelmanFounder/Lead Criticdisappointment media