Ammonite isn’t exactly a gem among fossils, or as memorable as similar exhibitions, but it’s certainly shiny. Maybe something like a quartz.
Before watching Francis Lee’s latest feature, I didn’t know what the word “ammonite” meant, I wasn’t aware the movie was set in Lyme Regis, and I had never watched a movie intending to write a review of the thing immediately afterwards. The problem with this last point is that I’m not entirely sure what a movie review consists of. Should I write with attempted objectivity, and try telling the reader that this part of the movie is good because it does this? To that I say “goodness no”. Surely that isn’t possible, all art is subjective, after all. Maybe I should simply list my opinions on the flick and hope that those reading find such a thing entertaining? Again I say “goodness no”. If I start thinking my opinions hold some sort of value, who knows what will happen, I’ll probably start telling people I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House was one of the best movies of the 2010’s, and nobody wants that.
So what I think I should do is come up with a perfectly silly concept that allows me to comfortably write about my experience with Ammonite, and hope that ,in doing so, I also happen to write what may pass for a movie review. The silly concept I have in my mind in this, I write about Ammonite as if I were writing to my past self. I know, ridiculous, but hear me out. I can tell them how the movie is set in Lyme Regis and maybe what the word “ammonite” means, inform them of what to expect of Ammonite, and what not to expect (keeping the best bits to myself of course, I wouldn’t want to spoil anything). I could write about all the things I would like to write, and because it’s aimed at a previous version of my own self, they’ll soon agree with everything I say. It’s perfect.
So without further ado, Hello Kai, how are you? You’re alright? Well, let me tell you something sir, you are a fool. Really, you ought to know what the word ammonite means: just Google it. Now, you’re about to watch a movie that has that same word as its title, and you don’t know this yet, but I think I ought to tell you that it’s set in Lyme Regis. We both have many memories of Lyme Regis, from childhood to adulthood, what with being raised not so far from the place, and I tell you now – you ought to prepare yourself. There are moments where both Saoirse Ronan and Kate Winslet walk along the cobb, and for me this was quite bizarre, somewhat jarring, and it’s likely I’ll never be able to walk there again without Ammonite coming to mind, so please do get ready for that. Whilst we’re talking about Lyme Regis, you should also note that there is a shot in this movie of rock pools, there are of course no such thing at Lyme Regis, but don’t take it too seriously, it’s just a movie after all.
Now, to the more interesting bits. I feel you have many questions, and although I don’t know how communicating like this really works, I’ll do my best to answer them. Firstly, and it breaks my heart to say it, no, at first glance Ammonite doesn’t seem to break any of those worn out homosexual-romance tropes. There’s the usual preconceived deadline to the character’s relationship, the reliable third-act-incoming steaminess, and an age gap that’s never drawn attention to. However, with that being said, it’s worth sticking it out to the end, because Ammonite does eventually break into new territory and its later stages put an unexpected spin on the proceedings up to that moment. It is a shame the movie doesn’t get to that point sooner, but I think you should just be glad that it gets there at all.
Secondly, yes, there is something you’ll find uniquely intimate about this movie, and that is its focus on hands. There’s a steady amount of frames involving hands, and, in an admittedly strange turn of events, they may be your favourite part of the movie, so when you get round to seeing it, try paying more attention to that. On my first watch, it seems to be a rather effective way of making the movie at large come across as all the more personal, and although Kate Winslet is eerily capable of displaying masses of emotion with the smallest changes to her facial expression, it’s hands that will give you the most information about her and Saoirse Ronan’s characters in the shortest amount of time.
Thirdly, I recommend you watch God’s Own Country (Francis Lee’s debut). Both it and Ammonite are thematically similar, and although they do share some circumstances, God’s Own Country is quicker to break out of those aforementioned tropes. Besides, they make for an interesting comparison. You’ll enjoy picking apart how the characters and the cinematography is different between the two, and I believe you’ll be curiously dumbfounded by the impact that an entirely familiar setting (Lyme Regis) and an entirely unfamiliar one (Yorkshire farmland) has on your overall viewing experience of each. Another thing about Francis Lee is that, when you go to see this movie, there’ll be an introduction with him and Tricia Tuttle as part of the London Film Festival, and the man’s beard is quite something. The thing is impressive. You’ll remember we tried to grow a mustache last summer, and that it got quite itchy and did nothing but make us feel self-conscious.
It seems Francis Lee does not have that problem, he holds a beard with utmost confidence. Which, curiously enough, is reflected rather well in his directing. You’ll notice throughout Ammonite that the camera moves and cuts with a calm measuredness. There are some beautifully composed shots in the movie that when you watch I’d like you to try and appreciate a little more in the moment, I’m sure you’ll know which ones I mean when you see them.
Yes, golly, the sound in this movie is perfect. You really shouldn’t be worried about that mate, it’s 2020, all movies have beautifully placed sound now, haven’t you heard? Oh, and also, when you book the tickets, maybe have a look at getting a seat a tad closer to the screen, there are some fire exit signs in the cinema that are quite bright (for obvious reasons) but nevertheless become more prevalent in your vision the higher you sit. Apart from all the above, I’m not sure what else to tell you, Ammonite is a good time. All the aspects work as well as you’d expect from a highly-anticipated movie in the 2020’s. It just works. Some may not like the characters, or the setting, or the dialogue, or what-have-you, and that’s fine.
If you’re still not sure whether you want to buy a ticket to Ammonite or not, I say you should, and although nobody else reading this may understand the following statement, I know that you will, and I hope that it will sell you on going to the cinema for this movie, and enjoying yourself. Ammonite is not just one of those movies that will make you skip out of the screening with pleasure, it’s also one of those movies that makes you stare off into the middle distance whilst walking home, and as you know, there aren’t many flicks that can achieve both.
Ammonite premiered at the BFI London Film Festival on Saturday, 17 October 2020, and is now available to watch on digital and on demand.