Ammonite: Kate Winslet and Soairse Ronan Smolder in This Historical Drama
9/17/2020 • 4 min read
Even in a strange year like 2020, the fall movie season offers some consistent pleasures. One is the chance to see amazing actors working together for the first time in movies crafted to showcase their skills. In AMMONITE, Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan get the spotlight as two researchers who fall into a relationship while working against the backdrop of a dour, rocky coastline.
Directed by Francis Lee (GOD'S OWN COUNTRY), AMMONITE is a movie of sensory, tactile storytelling. It shows rather than tells, and Winslet and Ronan embrace the opportunity to play characters who express themselves through action and interaction rather than in extensive dialogue.
It’s Based on an Incredible True Story
Kate Winslet plays Mary Anning, who in 19th century England became a pioneering paleontologist. Her defining work contributed greatly to the modern understanding of the prehistoric world. Saoirse Ronan plays Charlotte Murchison, another historical figure who was a contemporary of Anning. Murchison was a 19th-century geologist married to the celebrated Scottish geologist Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, played by James McArdle from MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS and STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS.
When we meet her in AMMONITE, Anning is already into the second or third act of her life. The glory days behind her, and she hangs out on the Southern English coast, selling expensive souvenirs to monied tourists. There, she meets Sir Murchison, who entrusts the paleontologist to watch over his wife. At first, the two women bristle in each other's company. Slowly, they find notes to appreciate in one another, and eventually, carry on a romantic affair. If you loved PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE, it sounds like there is a lot to love about AMMONITE, especially with the two stars in their respective roles.
Winslet Left Another Movie to Do It
According to a revealing conversation in the Hollywood Reporter, Kate Winslet was so taken with the script for AMMONITE (written by the director Francis Lee) that she quietly dropped out of Wes Anderson’s anthology movie, THE FRENCH DISPATCH. (Anderson’s film has been shuffled to 2021.) Winslet won’t say which role she turned down, but she wanted to devote herself fully to AMMONITE.
"I had to pull out because I was so entrenched in AMMONITE that I just freaked myself out thinking, Oh my God, I’d have to go to France. Come back. Then I’d only have three weeks until starting shooting AMMONITE," Winslet told THR. "And I just knew that I wasn’t going to do my best, and so I had to say, 'I’m sorry.' I pulled my name out of the mix." Had she agreed to do Anderson’s latest opus, an anthology about a celebrated European newspaper, she would have co-starred with her AMMONITE scene partner Saoirse Ronan. Ronan’s role in THE FRENCH DISPATCH hasn’t been revealed either, but this information just has us hankering for another Winslet/Ronan team-up.
Saoirse Ronan Returns
Kate Winslet's performance is only half of AMMONITE's appeal. This is also Saoirse Ronan’s first movie since last year’s out-and-out brilliant LITTLE WOMEN adaptation. LITTLE WOMEN, seen above, nabbed Ronan a much-deserved Best Actress Oscar nomination — her fourth! (The first was for ATONEMENT, shot when Ronan was 12.)
We've seen Ronan as one of the most exciting actresses of her generation for some time now, but in the year since LITTLE WOMEN, we haven’t seen her at all. (Granted, 2020 has been a wild one. ) Welcome back, Saoirse. It’s been too long. We can’t wait to watch you in AMMONITE.
Winslet Went Deep
According to that same THR profile, Winslet worked with writer/director Lee for months to give her character a highly detailed backstory and filling in gaps in the historical account of Mary Anning’s life. They workshopped Anning’s life, informing Winslet’s portrayal and leading to a performance that is largely nonverbal, according to Lee.
Winslet's idea was to strip away the dialogue and leave the character's emotions largely unspoken. Lee told Winslet to "work the stillness," which is apparently what she did. Her performance is already getting noticed and Winset is being earmarked as an early Oscar contender.
AMMONITE is in theaters November 13, 2020!
All images courtesy of NEON.