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Writer-director Francis Lee (God’s Own Country [2017]) tells a story here loosely based on the celebrated early-19th-Century English paleontologist Mary Anning. 

The biodiversity of the English Channel coast over the millennia resulted in all manner of objects of geological and archeological interest, attracting the talented scientist Anning and, eventually, tourists. It’s a wholly believable and relatable tale: a human being living daily with the crunch of stones beneath her feet, and the abrasiveness of fossils at her hands, comes to crave the softness of another’s flesh.

Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Jones (God’s Own Country), and James McArdle (Mary Queen of Scots [2018]) highly satisfy in the striking degree to which they inhabit their roles. The director steers Ammonite away from all things ponderous, and the actors transmit the on-location fun to the audience.

I can’t think of a recent film in which sound design was so important to the themes, or one in which it was so successfully realized—the waves lapping at the shore, the clicks and rubbing together of wet pebbles. Perfect angles and lighting from cinematographer Stephane Fontaine also contribute to the sublime atmosphere. A parade of fantastic stovepipe hats leads the way in the creative, enjoyable costume design. The movie is rich with symbolism, which works for it and, to a lesser degree, against it.

In the end, Ammonite is a lusty steampunk study in contrast and texture. One that invites the viewer to scrape away their own fossilized layers and lay themselves bare, soft, and vulnerable to love.

the international CRITIQUE rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.