Ammonite [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Universal Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (7th March 2021).
The Film

Her glory days of discovering an ichthyosaur fossil among the rocks at Lyme Regis at the age of eleven, Mary Anning (Little Children's Kate Winslet) ekes out a living for herself and her ailing mother Molly (Paperhouse's Gemma Jones) excavating and selling smaller ammonite fossils to tourists. It turns out that she has not been entirely forgotten by her male colleagues when naturalist Roderick Murchison ('71's James McArdle) requests to learn from her for a few days of beach excavation before going on his own overseas expedition. She reluctantly accepts when he offers much-needed recompense; as such, she finds she cannot resist when he offers further recompense for her to take on his wife Charlotte (Atonement's Saoirse Ronan) as a pupil when he leaves her behind to convalesce after the loss of their baby. Mary is content to work while Charlotte sits on the beach until the younger woman catches a chill and comes down with a fever, with the new young Dr. Lieberson (God's Own Country's Alec Secareanu) taking it for granted that Mary will look after her (“It is a woman's position to care for a fellow sister," he states). Charlotte slowly recovers from her fever but seems to malinger to remain in Mary's company, walking the beach while Mary works to recuperate and gradually becomes interested in Mary's work leading to a greater intimacy overshadowed by the grousing of Mary's observant mother and the veiled comments of seemingly benevolent midwife Elizabeth Philpot (Close Your Eyes' Fiona Shaw). It is not until they accept an invitation to an evening of musical entertainment at the house of the doctor that Mary is reminded of the gulf between their social classes. Mary tries to push Charlotte away but they reconnect over a new fossil discovery; however, it is just a matter of time before Charlotte's husband summons her home.

"Loosely based," as admitted by writer/director Francis Lee, on the lives of nineteenth century fossil collector Mary Anning and geologist Charlotte Murchison, Ammonite takes some controversial liberties with the source material in basically transposing two historical figures onto the narrative and visual template of Céline Sciamma's Portrait of a Lady on Fire. While that film had its basis not in the period and fictional characters of its setting but in the relationship between the director and lead actress Adèle Haenel, there is no evidence that Anning was a lesbian or in a relationship with Murchison (who was actually ten years older than Anning in real life). Although Lee had sensitively directed the gay drama God's Own Country with a similarly lonely protagonist whose sexuality is overshadowed by an ailing parent, he seems to have failed to see the irony of imposing an interpretation of queer sexuality on a real person on the basis of her never having married or there being evidence of her having had lovers. In ticking off the Portrait of a Lady on Fire boxes, the film simply plods along on its own attractive if not exactly arresting visuals and omnipresent sound design with little actual suspense or romantic tension. It is as much a given that benignly domineering Roderick will be conveniently absent for longer than stated and his return will arrive impersonally in the form of one of the many letters in the film of which we only see their effect on the reader as the doctor's romantic interest in Mary will be addressed and rebuffed in a single scene like a story beat on an index card. At worst, Ammonite is a poor sophomore effort buoyed by BFI production value; at best, it could encourage viewers to look into the real stories of Anning – and her influence on the studies of paleontology and evolution – Philpot, the Murchisons, and other prominent figures who do not figure into the film narrative.
image

Video

Given scant stateside release by distributor Neon, Ammonite gets a no-frills Blu-ray release from Universal Pictures. The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescren presentation of this RED-lensed film has cool grading, low-lighting in which crush appears minimal, and textures and fine detail where intended while a lot of action, location, and set dressing peripheral to the protagonist's attention falls off into soft focus and deliberate murk.
image

Audio

The only audio option is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track in which the surrounds are an almost constant wash of the Lyme Regis tides while the front channels are used for dialogue and some very pointed sounds from the musical notes Charlotte picks out on an out-of-tune piano to the chiseling and scraping of Mary's work. Optional English SDH subtitles are also provided.
image

Extras

The sole extra on the Blu-ray is "The Making of Ammonite" (5:43) in which Lee admits that the film is loosely based on Anning, and that he endeavored to give her a "relationship that felt worthy of her" while Winslet describes the role as being very different from her other period roles and Ronan provides some insight into her character.
image

Overall

At worst, Ammonite is a poor sophomore effort buoyed by BFI production value; at best, it could encourage viewers to look into the real stories of Anning – and her influence on the studies of paleontology and evolution – Philpot, the Murchisons, and other prominent figures who do not figure into the film narrative.

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, amazon.de, amazon.it, amazon.es and amazon.se.