Ammonite, Francis Lee’s follow-up to God’s Own Country transports us back to 1800s Lyme, where pioneering paleontologist Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) spent her life finding, cleaning, and selling fossils. We wrote an ebook on Francis Lee’s first film, God’s Own Country, which you can purchase here.
In Ammonite, writer-director Franics Lee transports us back to 1800s Lyme, where pioneering paleontologist Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) spent her life finding, cleaning, and selling fossils. It’s hard, physical labour, where she’s constantly getting covered in mud, but as a working class woman, she was without the luxury of a change of clothes — something we’re made constantly aware of. From the loud crash of the sea on the rocky, windy beach where Mary does her excavations, to the warm crackle of the precious fire indoors, Lee (who is obsessed with sound) makes you feel like you can taste the salty air, feel the chill, and want to reach out and touch Mary’s one sturdy dress. The costumes by Michael O’Connor are so rich in texture you can almost feel them.
Like withdrawn farmhand Johnny (Josh O’Connor) in Lee’s first feature, God’s Own Country, Mary works constantly, rarely speaks, and puts on a hard shell in a world where she’s been burned too many times. When a bumbling, posh paleontology hobbyist (James McArdle, marvelous) pays her to spend time with his wife, Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan), who is mourning a lost child, the two women slowly open each other up through mucking about in the mud and looking at fossils. Mary is always working, never looking up from what she’s doing both out of necessity and pride, so it’s through this work that they form an intellectual connection which turns into something more. Their intense physical connection leads to both actors undergoing a gradual physical transformation into calmer, warmer, more vibrant versions of themselves.
Ammonite is getting billed as a period romance, but where Lee really excels is in evoking the time and place, creating a whole community around Mary and Charlotte, including the kindly new doctor (Alec Secareanu), all of whom you can imagine continuing to live lives off screen. Although Mary was the rare nineteenth century woman to not only be unmarried but earning her own living as an expert in her field, Lee never draws attention to this with the kind of showy biopic techniques you might expect from a period drama about a real life figure. Instead, he shows us how Mary is respected by the way men are always offering her a handshake, how she won’t even look up from her work to talk to a client, and how others speak highly of her work while she scowls and keeps going. Though a woman of few words, the looks she exchanges with her mother (Gemma Jones) reveal years of love and struggle.
Ammonite will open in cinemas in Canada and the US in November. Stay tuned for a podcast episode comparing Ammonite to God’s Own Country, as well as more in-depth coverage on the film. Subscribe to our podcast here.
Discover how Francis Lee directs with our ebook on God’s Own Country
Francis Lee’s first feature, God’s Own Country, is a swoon-worthy queer romance set in Yorkshire. Through interviews with Lee, the actors, and his cinematographer, discover how Lee thinks about sound, directs actors, and more.