“Ammonite” is the story of 19th century British fossil collector and paleontologist Mary Anning. She runs a tourist shop in Dorset, Southwest England, with her elderly mother. But her passion is searching for rare rocks and marine fossils in the cliffs along the English Channel. Her discoveries have made her famous in the collector community.
Mary doesn’t hate her life, but it doesn’t feel complete. Into that life walks fellow collector Roderick Murchison and his wife Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan). Murchison pays the very private Mary to follow her on her expeditions and then to take Charlotte under her wing when he’s called back to London.
Charlotte is suffering from depression (the reason becomes clear). The reluctant Mary and the sad Charlotte develop a friendship that blossoms into a romance.
“Ammonite” is similar to 2015’s “Carol” in its exploration of two women and forbidden love. But it lacks the depth of that Cate Blanchett/Rooney Mara drama, set over a century later.
“Ammonite” is a slow go. Minimal dialogue is reserved for every third to fourth scene. There are a few moments when writer/director Francis Lee’s narrative displays obvious cracks, and there’s a severe lack of tension until the final half hour. A subplot involving a former lover from Mary’s past is the most intriguing. And the climax does provide some much needed energy and bite.
Winslet’s Mary is silently stern, sullen and contemplative. This is not my favorite Winslet performance, but she’s rarely disappointing (the exception being Woody Allen’s 2017 “Wonder Wheel”). With Charlotte, Ronan is allowed to build a more multifaceted characterization.
“Ammonite” is as artsy as it gets, taking its time to breathe and grow. It’s certainly not the movie “find” of the year, but it is worth seeking out.