The end of the calendar movie season is approaching and with it comes the parade of star-studded films, all vying for nominations in multiple awards categories. “Ammonite” certainly checks many boxes on the Oscar-Bait checklist. It’s headlined by two world-class performers in Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan. Winslet’s a past Academy Award winner, and Ronan’s been nominated four times. It also provides a time-period setting which always equates to brownie-points with voters. This story is set in the mid-1800’s and follows two women who lead different lives, that cross paths and form a bond with one another.
This is where Winslet and Ronan put their talents on display as both easily pour themselves into these vastly different characters. Winslet’s Mary leads a seemingly unhappy existence as she scours the beach for fossils and runs her small shop. There’s a loneliness and a sadness to her that I did find interesting. It made me want to learn more about her to see where this emotional pain had come from. Mary was a stern woman who was firm in her beliefs, and seeing Winslet deliver these character layers did have me engaged.
Ronan was equally fantastic as Charlotte, this much younger, and naiver woman who’s lived a life sheltered by her husband’s wealth. Yet, despite the money at her disposal, she’s missing the feeling of having someone love her passionately and unconditionally. Ronan felt natural in capturing the optimism of being young and inexperienced in life and she easily provides the story with another provocative character. Charlotte is unhappy for her own reasons, that are much different than Mary’s, yet they’re both in need of the same thing and seeing these two people, at this place in their lives meeting one another, had a great deal of potential.
Unfortunately, it was potential that often during this two-hour story, felt untapped. The chemistry between Winslet and Ronan was incredible. The love between them was raw and pure which makes you want to see them grow together. However, the progression of the story was extremely slow and to be honest, not enough happened between these characters to keep the dramatic energy going. The pace was a bit of a drag as well, and despite the great wardrobes, authentic performances, immersive backdrops, and solid production-design, this movie was surprisingly boring in places.
This movie feels routinely similar in theme and plot-progression to last year’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”. And regardless of Winslet and Ronan providing their usual excellence, this movie falls short in taking the viewer to another time and place, for an emotionally gripping journey of love. Stretches of this story are incredibly compelling, while others are slowly timed, and bland. The direction from Francis Lee is certainly crisp, and he captures dramatic visual moments between the characters that do land with impact. And the visual-appeal overall, does create an inviting atmosphere for a consuming narrative. But with a thin plot-line, it doesn’t all come together.
This film had the benefit of Winslet and Ronan in the lead. The opportunity for riveting emotional moments between the characters was about as plentiful as it can get. Yet lingering stares, short-stretches of dialogue, and streamy sexy scenes are a focus to deliver the visual representation of a passionate romance. With a narrative that fails to completely grow the substance of this connection between Charlotte and Mary to craft an enthralling two-hours with a movie.