As early as its trailer, “Ammonite” unavoidably gave off vibes similar to 2019’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” Both are period dramas with intense, secretive romances between women. Common threads in their stories, locations and time periods make it difficult for a viewer familiar with “Portrait” not to compare the two. In fact, there are several shots on the beach in “Ammonite” that reminded me of shots in the earlier film. Yet unlike “Portrait,” “Ammonite” didn’t intrigue me. Its story lacked substance, failing to engross.
Kate Winslet (“The Mountain Between Us”) delivers a subtle, solemn performance as talented paleontologist Mary Anning. Mary works selling fossils in her shop and is offered a job to be a companion to Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan, “Little Women”), who is recuperating by the sea. Ronan has a range of emotional scenes, but the chemistry between these characters did not work for me. After a second viewing, I thought the chemistry was possibly nonexistent because “Ammonite” wasn’t a full love story but instead a depiction of companionship and loneliness.
Visually, “Ammonite” is appealing with outside shots filled with unsaturated colors referencing the emotional state of both characters. Director Francis Lee (“God’s Own Country”), who also wrote the screenplay, effectively communicates a cold, depressing, hopeless environment. But I couldn’t help but be slightly bored during several scenes, particularly those with no dialogue following an unexpressive Mary.
I’m also becoming frustrated with the notion of lesbian narratives that feel obligated to showing lesbian sex. I wondered if this would’ve been an entirely different film had it been directed by a woman (such as “Portrait’s” Céline Sciamma, cough, cough). Sadly, we’ll never know. Overall, “Ammonite” is an OK film whose lack of character dynamic and story makes it easily forgettable.