Having finally visited one of my bucket list destinations during a 2020 Covid-safe road trip this summer, I come to the movie Ammonite with an extra degree of enthusiasm. Nevada’s Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park near Gabbs let me see the state’s very own fossil, a huge, ocean reptile often called a “sea lizard.” The Ammonite movie focuses on Mary Anning, an 1840s British fossil hunter renowned for finding museum quality specimens of Ichthyosaurs…along with the shells that feature in the story’s title. Besides appreciating fossils, I find positive points in any movie that stars Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronin, two fine actresses ladled with numerous Oscar nominations.
Sure enough, the actresses dominate the screen with their striking features and strong sense of their roles. Both characters live outside their era’s expectations. Like an ammonite, Anning protects herself with a shell of isolation, a look Winslet brings to her hardened face. More brittle than her caregiver, Ronin’s younger woman hides in her own shell but emerges with passionate freedom.
Ichthyosaurs show up as well, both as fossils and in drawings at the end. But of course, no one really wants to make a movie about ichthyosaurs—unless as a form of Loch Ness Monster. No, Ammonite covers romance, an unsubstantiated affair between the fossil hunter and the younger woman staying with her.
Though the affair’s historical reality remains speculative, it serves as the film’s main thrust and follows conventions of the LGBTQ subgenre of lesbian love stories. This means: A younger-older dynamic like in Carol. A past era as in Desert Hearts. Seaside locations as in Portrait of a Lady on Fire. A distinct community as in Disobedience. And really intense sex as in Blue is the Warmest Color and all of those films.
As a result, much of Ammonite feels familiar, highlighted primarily by a standout cast and effective use of locations along England’s Jurassic Coast. Despite its lead characters propensity to dig for fossils in sand and dirt, Ammonite lacks groundbreaking originality.
Ammonite streams through premium on demand services.