Oscar winner Kate Winslet stars in this drama that many consider to be a lesbian love story.
Only ammonites are stiffer than the British. Of course, not everything that rhymes has a hand and foot. But at least in the Victorian Age, the comparison with fossilized cephalopods – i.e. ammonites – made perfect sense. Because hardly anyone was able to break free from the tightly tied norms that held the United Kingdom together in the mid-19th century.
Mary Anning is one of the few who has tried hard. As a woman who did not belong to the upper class, she had the worst possible chance of gaining a foothold in the world of science. Nevertheless, the professional fossil collector managed to leave traces. Thanks to spectacular skeletal finds, she is now considered a pioneer in the field of paleontology.
Pitfalls of poetic freedom
“Ammonite” could tell all of this in the form of a classic biopic. Author-filmmaker Francis Lee chose a different, more rocky path: He stylized Mary Anning into an LGBTQ icon by embedding her story of emancipation in a lesbian relationship drama.
This in turn offers a lot of attack surface. Less, because historically there is no evidence of this. Rather, because the trailer now looks as if the film had copied from another festival darling: “Portrait de la jeune fille en feu” by Celine Sciamma.
Siblings, not soulmates
As in the canvas pearl, which has rightly won several awards, in “Ammonite” two women in 19th century costumes explore their desire for one another. In both cases, the whole thing is made possible by a setting that is based on three premises.
First: the practically complete absence of men. Second: the omnipresence of the stormy sound of the sea. And third: a power imbalance between the lovebirds based on money and education.
As similar as the prerequisites of the related films are, the result is fundamentally different: While Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait” celebrates the love of his heroines in a powerful way, Francis Lee’s drama relies on gray realism. And thus creates the worst possible framework conditions for butterflies in the stomach.
In love, snobbish, petrified?
Mary (Kate Winslet) in the southern English provincial town of Lyme Regis takes note of the lucrative job offer from a snobbish Londoner with a pained face: She is supposed to be accompanied by his melancholy wife Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan) on her coastal expeditions. So that after the loss of an unborn child, she can come back to other thoughts.
The fossil collector initially meets the uninvited guest in a cool and dismissive manner. Until Charlotte falls seriously ill, which requires Mary’s full attention. Inspired by Charlotte’s recovery, Mary is slowly regaining her zest for life. Your rugged facade begins to crumble. But whoever hopes for great emotional eruptions à la «Portrait de la jeune fille en feu», waits in vain.
For the rude and freedom-loving protagonist of “Ammonite” – following her historical model – work will always remain in the foreground. That should satisfy all those who are willing to get fully involved in Mary Anning’s story of emancipation. At the same time leave all those petrified who expected a hot-blooded love story.
Theatrical release: May 20, 2021