Ammonite (2020)

Movie poster for Ammonite, featuring two women's silhouettes overlapping, each facing from either side of the image.

Content Warnings: Child loss (off-screen miscarriage); Depression

Genre: Sapphic (Spicy!!) Historical Romance

“1840s England, acclaimed but overlooked fossil hunter Mary Anning and a young woman sent to convalesce by the sea develop an intense relationship, altering both of their lives forever.”

IMDb blurb

Directed and written by Francis Lee

RATING out of 10 violets, with 1 being the least and 10 being the most pain

3/10 quiet violets.

Image of ten violets, three purple and seven gray.

This review contains spoilers.

I have come to associate Kate Winslet with tragedy. It’s kind of a chicken-and-the-egg situation: I’m not sure if my love of tragedy preceded my love for this English actress, or if my love of Winslet made me necessarily drawn to tragedies. Then I remember I discovered her smack in the middle of the biggest romantic tragedy of the ’90s (ahem, Titanic). So, naturally, I assumed that Ammonite was going to be another tragic film of Winslet’s, an assumption further cemented by the fact that this is a period Sapphic film, a genre notorious for being tragically soul-sucking.

I can’t even describe to you the earth-quaking shock I experienced when I realized that this film, despite all indicators, was not only going to end happily–but in a happily-ever-after!

I skimmed a few reviews of Ammonite to see if I was about to be utterly devastated, and the word that kept coming up to describe the film was “quiet.” The film is unique in this respect in that so much of its exposition is executed in total silence, which didn’t bother me as it bothers some. In fact, the utter quiet and stillness in Mary Anning (Kate Winslet)’s home is made all the more precious by the sound of the crashing waves and tides when she goes digging on the beach for ammonite.

I appreciated this love story from both sides: I am quiet, closed-off, and grumpy like Mary in my older age, but I also recognized my younger, baby dyke self in the naïve and clumsy Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan). This dynamic made for an unlikely pair but a believable one.

There is a lot to love about this film. I love the attention to hands–Mary’s rough, dirty, and sometimes bloody ones, Charlotte’s pale and delicate ones. I nearly died when it became clear that the convalescing Charlotte was going to invite Mary to sleep in her own bed beside her after several nights propped up in an uncomfortable chair. And I loved how their first kiss (though on the corners of their mouths) was entirely accidental.

Oh, and I loved the fact that the two’s romantic relationship goes from 0 to 100 in the span of moments. Unexpected. Dizzying. Delicious.

Between this film and Portrait of a Lady on Fire, I’m beginning to think that the ocean is inherently Sapphic. Perhaps it’s because Sapphics are drawn to the edge of the world the way they’re drawn to pain and nihilism and existentialism and deeper thought. Or perhaps it’s because beach-strolling was practically the only thing to do mid-century, besides draw portraits of each other.

And like Portrait of a Lady on Fire, I was pleased to see a Sapphic couple who is free to enjoy each other’s company (even if limited by time and circumstance) away from society’s prying eyes.

The ending took me by surprise. It is a happily-ever-after, but not at all in the way I was expecting. I hadn’t seen Portrait of a Lady on Fire when I watched Ammonite for the first time, but I was expecting an ending akin to that one–a pleasant parting of lovers and a reflection of life and love. But this ending was far more satisfying than what I was expecting. Not only is it a happy ending where no Sapphics are punished for who they love, but it’s a happily-ever-after!

Being that this was the first Sapphic film I’ve seen with a happy ending, Ammonite has set the standards for the rest of this blog’s pain scale. It is proof that it is, in fact, possible to find a story where neither of the queers has to die or be punished for who they are. And then they get to live out their lives together in the end, too. What bliss.


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