Ammonite written and directed by Francis lee is a profound romance/drama, set in 17th century southwest England. Much like the director’s 2017 venture, “God’s Own Land”, this film too has an innate poetic character to it. The film is loosely based on the life of the renowned paleontologist, Mary Anning.
Ammonite explores the forbidden pastures of a romantic relationship between Mary Anning, played by Kate Winslet and Charlotte Murchison, played by Saoirse Ronan. Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, belong to that rare category of actors who are not only supremely talented but have held onto that instinctive boldness and somehow have never ceased to have that commercial viability. The amalgamation benefits independent projects like Ammonite, in reaching viewers who otherwise wouldn’t have been part of the target audience. Through the two characters, we are able to assimilate the customs, traditions, lifestyle, ideologies and much more, of a 17th century England. It’s in the little details that the director gives us a glimpse of a world where opportunities were not equally provided.
Mary Anning is a palaeontologist and lives life on her own terms. She works hard for her living and supports her family i.e her mother, by selling fossils to people which she collects from the Lyme Regis beach. She has who literally grew up on the beaches, had a natural ability to spot fossils that would often slip even a trained eye, famed to have found the fossilised skull of a reptile-like creature, which later came to be known as “Ichthyosaur.” But like most of the female entrepreneurs, artists, scientists and explorers she was not given much credit or royalty for her discoveries which she made over a period of time. She had to ultimately resort to a measly affair of retailing fossils to run her household.
On one such cloudy morning, a tourist named Roderick Murchison walks into the store, who is a fellow palaeontologist and has some genuine appreciation for Mary Anning and her path-breaking work. Work for which she was often not given them credit for. But that fact is assumed to be something that is customary and not at all illicit or even immoral to any level.
Murchison says his wife suffers from “melancholia“, but it is his behaviour towards her and his basic conduct which tells you a lot about the position of women in that era. He feels that Charlotte should stay in Lyme Regis to get some sea air, which was believed to bring about a change in her, so-called, a psychological problem. He leaves her in the care of Miss Anning, who at first doesn’t want to take the responsibility but is coerced by the presence of her mother, who shows an inclination, as they were in need of the money.
Contradictory to the character of Mary Anning, which was established till now, she takes utmost care of Charlotte, developing a penchant for the Young lady from London. Charlotte acknowledges that but responds with equal exuberance. It seems like they understand each other as no one has ever understood them.
Mary who always had this opaque demeanour was now becoming more and more translucent. The rationale, hard-working realist was somewhere being drawn towards the fantasy land which she created for herself with Charlotte. But they were two people who came from very different worlds. What they desired from life was highly contrasting. But no matter how preposterous it sounds, but what they shared stemmed was honest emotions. Their intent could never be reduced to something insubstantial or frail.
The narrative made it seem like that it was extremely normal or conventional for two people to have a romantic relationship, belonging to the same sex. And that’s where the victory of the film and Francis Lee lies. Generally, we see in many “pseudo-message-oriented” films that the coming together of two people of the same gender in itself is used as a meteoric event. It is made sensational to an extent where the whole conflict succumbs itself to this very fact. In Ammonite though, conflict arises from the same places, where it would have arisen from, had it been a romantic story between a male and a female.
Francis Lee allows the character of Mary Anning to establish herself through silence more than spoken words. It’s through the intricate details, one feels that they completely know and understand the character. Their understanding of each other might be based on the basic fact that they belong to the same gender. They were both sufferers of an unjust, patriarchal world.
Some people might be left unsatisfied due to the absence of any catastrophic event that converges into some blown-out finale. The only thing you can hope to see are the little changes, those psychological evolutions, that little dent on one’s ideologies and a beautiful romance between two personalities, one who is free despite being bred in austerity and the other who is caged but opulent.
Ammonite is available for Video on Demand.
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