While all the makings of a soul-wrenchingly impossible affair seem to be here, Ammonite sadly feels too distant, underpowered and colorless for its own good, as if somewhere down the line, its heart had died and hardened like a fossil waiting to be discovered.
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One of Lee’s brilliant choices is to refuse to put a soppy romantic gloss on the affair. He suggests instead that passion can blind lovers to a true understanding of each other as easily as it can open their eyes.
This is the work of a mature filmmaker in full command of his voice, yielding remarkable performances, chief among them a complex character study of stoicism and desire from Kate Winslet that might be the best work of her career.
Ammonite, a work of art rather than science or history, has no qualms about departing from the known record — and does so with wit, beauty and a modernism that feels all the more bracing in this Victorian context.
Even in their most intimate scene, Mary and Charlotte and their love remain at a remove.
Ammonite is too pallid to really get your blood flowing.
There's an austerity to the film — long shots of stone and candlelight, clipped dialogue — that can feel rigorous, almost grim. But Lee (God's Own Country) is only building a richer kind of mood, and priming the canvas for his actresses, who reward that faith with remarkable performances.
It is a love story that is also a fascinating artefact: quixotic, romantic, erotic.
Ultimately more symbolic than satisfying, the project leaves one grateful that two stars of this caliber would take on such a story, while wishing their efforts had left us with a more resonant artifact.
Whatever the truth of Anning and Murchison’s time in Dorset together was, Ammonite could have done whatever it wanted. It chooses instead to do close to nothing, and leaves us, quite like its central pair, helplessly grasping for more.