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Ammonite: A Fossilised Lesbian Romance Film Review

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Ammonite is now available to watch in the UK! Finally! I’ve been waiting to see this film. As soon as it was available, I sat down and watched it. Wow! I have so much to say about this film that I decided to write it down. So here goes! I hope you enjoy this inside look at Ammonite from a lesbian film fanatic.

Ammonite (directed by Francis Lee) tells its story in 1840s Dorset, England. The film loosely bases itself on the life of paleontologist and fossil collector Mary Anning (played by Kate Winslet in the film OMG) and her speculative relationship with Charlotte Murchison (played by Saoirse Ronan double OMG!) Mary Anning, as the main character, is reclusive and lives inside her head. She devotes herself to her work and the care of her mother, Molly (played by Gemma Jones).

Mary and Charlotte first meet when Charlotte and her husband, geologist Roderick Murchison (played by James McArdle), visit Mary. Roderick is a fan of Mary and would like to work with her. After a few trips to the beach together, Roderick decides to return home. But before he leaves, he asks Mary if Charlotte can stay in Dorset and accompany her to the beach. Mary reluctantly agrees, and a series of awkward beach scenes of the two women ensue. It would not be a lesbian romance without some initial conflict that turns into growing sexual tension, would it?

Anyway, their time together becomes more intimate and less awkward when Charlotte gets ill. Mary ends up caring for her. When Charlotte is better, the sexual tension continues to grow. It gets so overwhelming for the two of them that there is a lustful explosion of kissing, which leads the audience into the first (of a few) sex scenes.

On the surface, Ammonite as a lesbian film, to me, is all but too familiar. Not only do the characters couple up, but the film has many characteristics of The Lesbian Romance Film. The story of a woman traveling to a new place reminds me of Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Celine Sciamma, 2019). Charlotte playing the feminine blonde-haired woman who meets Mary, the brown-haired, stoic, and established lesbian, reminds me of Cay and Vivien in Desert Hearts (Donna Deitch, 1986). The inclusion of the husband character reminds me of Below Her Mouth (April Mullen, 2016).

Although this film mimics many characteristics of its predecessors, what I enjoyed most in Ammonite was the film’s use of camerawork and sound to tell the story. Francis Lee, the film’s director, is known for his realist and semi-autobiographical film, God’s Own Country (2017). God’s Own Country is a tender but muddy story of two men against the bleak Yorkshire landscape. Lee continues a similar feel in Ammonite.

Swapping Yorkshire for Lyme Regis, Dorset, Lee introduces Mary through her environment’s loud and harsh soundscape. The sound of her footsteps pressing onto the beach stones, the crashing waves, or even the scrapping of Mary’s knife against rock all place us in Mary’s world. To me, these sounds represent Mary’s internal dialogue. As a reclusive character, I got a sense of Mary’s inner turmoil through her environment. And what is most interesting to see is how these sounds change once her relationship with Charlotte deepens. We hear music and the loud sounds of the beach disappear. The sun even comes out. The film’s visuals become brighter.

The camerawork in the film is also thoughtful. The handheld camera used with the sound presents Mary’s world as tactile. The materiality of rock, mud, and water at the beginning of the film soon develops into skin, kissing, and sex later on. The close-up shots not only pull us into Mary’s world but further represent the importance of touch and connection in Ammonite.

These filmmaking decisions by Francis Lee present a lesbian romance film that is considerate in its production. Not only does Lee bless us with a romance between Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, but also with a well-made film. Ammonite is a piece of lesbian history forever fossilised in cinematic form, and I think Francis Lee did a good job!

Looking to watch the trailer? You can find it here.

I hope you enjoy it too!

P.S. If you do decide to watch Ammonite and are left wanting more, don’t forget to check out our Best Lesbian Movies on Netflix and Amazon Prime for more watching inspiration. Let the team know what you think of the movie by commenting below.

Team Nonchalant x

Harry Adams
Harry Adams

Harry is a filmmaker, writer and creative living in Essex. They are either watching a film, filming a sunset or working on a creative project. At the moment, it’s loom weaving! Combine any of these with coffee and a cosy jumper and Harry is happy!

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