Verdict: Jurassic larks
Verdict: A Turner to award
Paleontology, the study of fossils, is not the sexiest topic. Not usually early Victorian England either.
In Ammonite, writer-director Francis Lee overcomes these problems by casting Kate Winslet as his fossil expert and giving her a lesbian relationship with a married protégée played by Saoirse Ronan.
In one fell swoop, 19th-century paleontology is sexed and becomes the story of a woman who finds herself between a rock and a soft spot.
There is no evidence that Mary Anning, Winslet’s character, was a lesbian. We do know that her fossil discoveries on the Dorset coast changed the understanding of prehistoric life, and that because she was female and of humble origins, the scientific establishment of the 1840s disapproved of her.
She is said to have been the inspiration for the tongue twister ‘She sells shells on the coast’.
In Ammonite, writer-director Francis Lee overcomes these issues by casting Kate Winslet (right) as his fossil expert and giving her a lesbian relationship with a married protégée played by Saoirse Ronan (left)
We also know that she befriended a woman named Charlotte Murchison (Ronan), whose husband Roderick was an acclaimed geologist.
But the real Charlotte was ten years older than Mary. Lee switches the age gap, doubles it, and turns it into lovers.
With that gigantic slice of artistic freedom, the story becomes one of a clandestine relationship, although Lee makes us wait for the love that was afraid to pronounce its name.
Anning lives with her widowed mother Molly (a pinched Gemma Jones) in Lyme Regis. It is a gloomy household, with a lot to be sad about.
Mary makes a modest income from the sale of her fossils, forcing her to deal with the public she seems to despise, while Molly, who has lost eight babies, instead mothers a collection of porcelain dogs resembling Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne in The Favorite (2018). ), who kept rabbits as proxies for her 17 dead children.
With that gigantic slice of artistic freedom, the story becomes one of a clandestine relationship, although Lee makes us wait for the love that was afraid to pronounce his name.
The Favorite was of course also a dramatic period drama; and there have been several more recently, including Colette, Portrait Of A Lady On Fire and on TV the excellent Gentleman Jack.
It feels like one of the stranger reactions to #MeToo, cleaning up men’s history, or at least making them obsolete.
In Ammonite there are only two of any significance: an indifferent foreign doctor (Alec Secareanu), whose attempt to make love to Mary falls on very stony ground; and pompous Roderick Murchison (James McArdle), heartlessly indifferent to his vulnerable wife.
She suffers from “mild melancholy” and when he sets out on a geological expedition, he leaves her to Maria. For the first hour of the film, Lee does his best to show us that Mary gets along much better with inanimate objects than with living objects, although an awkward encounter with a genteel city woman played by Fiona Shaw hints at a previous lesbian romance.
With that gigantic slice of artistic freedom, the story becomes one of a clandestine relationship, although Lee (left with Kate Winslet) makes us wait for the love that was afraid to pronounce its name.
Dialogue is painfully sparse; Winslet and Ronan act more with their eyes than with their lips. But the lips will have their moment. After 43 minutes, Charlotte cracked a smile. After 52 minutes, Mary follows suit. A moment later they smile at each other.
And soon these two women, buttoned up in more ways than one, have managed to take off their lavish undergarments and have decidedly raunchy sex.
Their romance elicits emotions in both of them, and since Winslet and Ronan are both such fine actresses, they keep us busy. Can their love survive or, prey to the constraints of polite society, will it hit the rocks?
It’s one of Ammonite’s shortcomings that these are really the only rocks that interest us.
Lee, whose only previous feature film God’s Own Country (2017) also dealt with a gay relationship, has curiously done Anning the same disservice to her stuffy contemporaries, making her sex more important than her job.
Another remarkable woman, Tina Turner, is the subject of a great documentary, Tina, in which the male of the species is cast into a relentless light once again.
Another remarkable woman, Tina Turner, is the subject of a great documentary, Tina, in which the male of the species is once again cast into a relentless light
Come to think of it, so did two other compelling chronicles of abused and exploited singing superstars, both of which were also evocatively titled with one name: Amy (2015) and Whitney (2018).
In the case of Tina Turner’s abuser, her Svengali-esque first husband Ike who forced his name on her, along with a whole lot more, it’s hard to forgive.
He beat her with iron hangers and raped her, and her story of the night she finally left him is one of the most compelling moments of the film.
But it’s also an uplifting story of survival, and includes at least one precious item from the music trivia: Tina Turner’s thunderous 1984 anthem What’s Love Got To Do With It was a cover version of a song previously recorded by … Buck’s Fizz. I’ve never known that before, and I’m glad I do now.
- Ammonite is now available on digital platforms. Tina can be seen on Sky Documentaries, Now TV and height.film from Sunday.
Even Judi cannot escape this …
Six minutes to midnight (12A)
Six Minutes to Midnight has a great title (it references the code for a secret phone number, Whitehall 1154), a great cast (including Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent), and a great premise, weaving a spy thriller from the extraordinary true story of an Anglo-German finishing school at Bexhill-on-Sea in East Sussex, home to the daughters of senior Nazis, which remained open until the eve of World War II.
Sadly, it’s a desperately awkward affair where co-writer Eddie Izzard misses out on being an English teacher planted in school by military intelligence.
Dame Judi, who plays the school’s unsuspecting headmistress, has previously worked with a stand-up comedian, Billy Connolly, in the charming 1997 drama Mrs. Brown. But Izzard never looks comfortable, while in some way he takes advantage of a scenario so shabby in parts that you wonder if maybe we are meant to laugh, like when the girls walk up a flight of stairs and sing in a ignorant pastiche of the ‘So Long, Farewell’ scene in The Sound Of Music.
It’s a desperately awkward affair in which co-writer Eddie Izzard misses out on being an English teacher planted in school by military intelligence. Pictured: Eddie Izzard and Judi Dench
Made in Italy (15)
James D’Arcy, who plays an acting role in Six Minutes To Midnight, is also the writer-director behind Made In Italy, a ‘bittersweet comedy’ that links Liam Neeson to his son Micheal Richardson.
Unfortunately, this too is a crushing disappointment, tarnished by frivolous acting, unconvincing dialogue and forced slapstick.
What it does have, however, is many beautiful Tuscan landscapes, as the widowed painter Robert Foster (Neeson) and his semi-estranged son Jack (Richardson) restore an old family home there before it is sold so that Jack can buy his ex. woman from her art gallery in London.
The idea is that the adventure heals their relationship. But it was done so inexpertly, so full of caricatures, that I found myself wishing the unlikely Jack the usual fate of Neeson’s offspring on screen. Where’s Taken 4 when you need it?
Tom & Jerry The Movie (PG)
Finally, do we need Tom & Jerry The Movie, which I covered in detail in Wednesday’s paper? I think we could use some collective family fun right now, and this mash-up, throwing the venerable cartoon characters into real Manhattan, ticks at least some of the right boxes.
Now all available on digital platforms.