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Review: TIFF 20: ‘Ammonite’ digs beneath the stereotypic veneer (capsule) (Includes first-hand account)

In Ammonite, two women are reborn via their love for each other, even though their affair begins with an expiry date. Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) was a skilled, 19th century paleontologist. However, due to her gender, she was not accepted by her peers. One day a young man arrives with his mourning wife, Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan), and asks Mary to spend time with her during her convalescence. After a rocky start, the pair embark on an intense relationship that significantly changes both of their lives.

Writer/director Francis Lee is building a portfolio of films that depicts romantic relationships started under difficult conditions. In this film, he shows the power finding love can have on two unhappy people, even if they must keep their feelings secret. At first, neither woman is thrilled about the arrangement, but unforeseen circumstances force them closer. As in Lee’s previous picture, the intimacy shared between Mary and Charlotte is raw and authentic. The camera captures their need for each other, while not being intrusive or trying to overly romanticize their visceral passion. Winslet and Ronan are beautiful in this movie as they both take on-screen risks with their portrayal of these women’s self-discovery. Both actresses authentically depict their characters’ transition from melancholy to joy, while never betraying their core personalities. Their performances carry the film and Lee’s apt avoidance of any heavy-handedness makes it an engaging experience.

Ammonite played in the Gala Presentations category at the Toronto International Film Festival. Check back for our full review closer to the theatrical release date.

Director: Francis Lee
Starring: Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Jones

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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