To see two of Europe’s most talented and beautiful actresses together I’d sell my soul to the devil. Kate Winslet may be known by Titanic even today but she has a formidable body of work to her credit, and Saoirse Ronan is getting there. Separately, they are a force to reckon with. Together they are dynamite.
Director Francis Lee made his debut last year with the masterpiece on gay love God’s Own Country. He moves back into the same familiar territory of forbidden love in the midst of a cruelly stoic desolate countryside. This time Lee has shot his lesbian love story in Lyme Regis, where Meryl Streep was captured in stunning glory in The French Lieutenant’s Woman 30 years ago. Ammonite is not as accomplished work as the director’s God’s Own Country. There is plenty of graphic sex between the two protagonists who go completely nude for their characters, emotionally and physically. Just as Josh O’Connor and Alec Secăreanu did in the earlier film. The latter is back in Ammonite as a physician with an indeterminate foreign accent who is attracted to Winslet. Who wouldn’t be?! But she has the hots for the beauteous Ms Ronan who reciprocates with abundant enthusiasm.
Winslet plays British palaeontologist Mary Anning in the 1840s. As played by Winslet, Mary is a woman who has shut out all emotions. Kate reminded me of Shabana Azmi in Deepa Mehta’s Fire. Mary has an old demanding mother (the wonderful veteran Gemma Jones) and she has no time or inclination to indulge her heart…until the ailing frail Charlotte (Ronan) walks into her life with a husband Roderick (played by James McArdle, who has one of the best speaking voices I’ve heard in a British actor).
Roderick is (conveniently) a bit of a jerk. When she tries to make love to him (after watching him wear his birthday suit) he gently rebukes her, “I don’t think we should try for another so soon after.” In other words, Charlotte has had a miscarriage and her husband thinks sex is to make babies. Also, again conveniently, he drops out of the narrative like a hot potato once his wife is in Mary’s bed. After Mary and Charlotte are separated Mary’s mother, again most conveniently, drops dead, so she can rush to London to be reunited with Charlotte.
Though visually stunning and emotionally charged, Ammonite misses the majestic messiness of the director’s earlier film. Perhaps working with two female superstars inhibited him, made him cautious about not going too far down the road of unconventional. Hota hai. A pity though. Ammonite had the potential of being great cinema. It settles for being good.
Directed by Francis Lee Ammonite gets 3 stars.
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