The Reel Review


Ammonite is a romantic drama set in the 1840s, a fictional love story between the accomplished yet at that time unheralded real life fossil hunter Mary Anning and upper class woman, Charlotte Murchison, during her extended stay at England’s fossil treasure trove – Lyme Regis, in West Dorset – to recover from a bout of depression. In real life, Mary and Charlotte were close friends up until Mary’s death at the age of 47 in 1847.

Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan in Ammonite.

This is a very slow, subtle film with strikingly stark cinematography and a tender score. Viewers with the patience and an appreciation for examplery, nuanced acting from Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan will find Ammonite a mesmerizing experience. Much of Winslet’s performance is done without words – via furtive glances, brief expressions of disgust or arousal, or a slight touch – and the onscreen chemistry and graphic sex between Winslet and Ronan has a raw and unmistakably authentic quality, capturing the oppressiveness of the era, without feeling gratuitous.

Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan in Ammonite.

Writer/director Francis Lee (God’s Own Country) again has proven himself to be a master of LGBTQ storytelling, capturing the anguish and internalized suffering of characters restricted from living open, honest lives, due to struggles over sexual orientation and sexism. A strong supporting cast – Gemma Jones (the Harry Potter series), Fiona Shaw (Fleabag, the Harry Potter series) and Alec Secareanu (God’s Own Country, Amulet) – also lend weight to this story, which contains an impressive amount of factually correct information about Anning – that she and a brother were the only two of ten children to survive into adulthood, that Anning also had a lifelong friendship with fellow fossil collector/salve maker Elizabeth Philpot (played by Shaw), that Anning’s only visit ever to London was to stay with Murchison, and that Anning, as a woman, was excluded from the Geological Society of London, despite her numerous discoveries that shaped scientific thinking about prehistoric life and the history of the Earth.

There has been some controversy surrounding the fictional lesbian love story of the never married Anning, a disappointing homophobic double standard, since there would likely have been none had Anning’s fictional love story been with a man. Lee’s dramatic license makes Ammonite a captivating, more human story.


1847 painting of Mary Anning and her dog Tray by artist J. Donne.

• Mary Anning was the inspiration of the popular 1908 song and tongue twister, “She Sells Seashells:”

She sells seashells on the seashore, the shells she sells are seashells I’m sure, so if she sells seashells on the seashore, then i’m sure she sells seashore shells.

• Saoirse Ronan’s favorite film growing up was 1997’s Titanic. “Who would have thought, when I was eight years old, that I’d be kissing Rose one day!” In reality, Charlotte Murchison was 11 years older than Mary, not 19 years younger, as Saorise is.

Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet and Gemma Jones in 1995’s Sense and Sensibility.

• Gemma Jones and Kate Winslet also played mother and daughter in 1995’s Sense and Sensibility.

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