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Review: Winslet, Ronan can't heat up cold 'Ammonite'

Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan star in period romance from writer-director Francis Lee

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

The tone is as muted as the diluted color palate in "Ammonite," a seaside period romance where everything is presented in a stifling cloud of gray. 

Kate Winslet stars as Mary Anning, the 19th century English fossil collector and paleontologist, and Saoirse Ronan is Charlotte Murchison, the woman who comes to live with her and with whom she shares a passionate, albeit brief, romance. Winslet and Ronan are a dream pairing, perhaps the best actresses of their respective generations, and yet they're not enough to lend this drama rushing blood or a beating heart. 

Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan in "Ammonite."

That's perhaps by design, as writer-director Francis Lee ("God's Own Country") revels in the repressed feelings of his lead character and the world she inhabits. Winslet plays Anning like she hasn't seen a smile in all her life, and that aesthetic defines the style of this rocky mood piece. 

Winslet's Mary is in her shop silently toiling away when she's visited by a tourist-type (James McArdle) who seeks an apprenticeship of sorts from the fossil expert. She agrees, reluctantly, because she can't afford to turn down the money.

He winds up leaving his spouse (Ronan) with her as she recovers from a bout of sickness and depression, and what begins as a silent relationship between the pair grows into something much deeper, which heats up until it spills over in a graphic display of physicality and sexuality.   

There's plenty said here about connection, restraint and societal acceptance of perceived taboos, and just as much that goes unsaid, true to the spirit of Lee's style and approach.

But while there's plenty to admire, "Ammonite" feels like a missed opportunity, and unlike some recent portraits, never really catches fire. It's just a lot of smoke, which makes it even harder to see through the film's hazy lens.   

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Ammonite'

GRADE: C+

Rated R: for graphic sexuality, some graphic nudity and brief language

Running time: 117 minutes

In theaters