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At The Movies: Digging ‘Ammonite’

“Ammonite” is a fascinating character study based on real persons. The film has two outstanding Oscar-worthy performances. The film is on several “Best Movies of 2020” lists.

“Ammonite,” the movie’s title, refers to the shell of Ammonoids, which are extinct marine mollusks. Ammonites are one of the most common fossils.

The movie, “Ammonite,” is about Mary Anning (1799 - 1847), an amateur English fossil hunter credited with discovering dinosaur specimens that led to the development of the science of paleontology.

Fossils found by Anning were displayed in museums, but she was not credited because of her lack of formal training and because of her gender and social class. The Geological Society of London didn’t accept women as members until 1904.

In “Ammonite,” Mary Anning is played by Kate Winslet. Appearing opposite Winslet is Saoirse Ronan as a younger, upper-class woman, Charlotte Murchison, who takes an interest in geology.

In a sort of twist on the tongue-twister nursery rhyme, “She sells seashells by the seashore,” Anning supports herself and her ailing mother at their home by selling fossils and fossil jewelry and trinkets to tourists from her seaside shops. Murchison’s husband pays Anning to chaperon his wife at the shop and in the fossil-sleuthing.

Anning becomes a mentor to Murchison. Their friendship is anything but fossilized. Whether or not the two women had a relationship in real life has not been verified. For another take on Mary Anning, read the novel, “Remarkable Creatures,” by Tracy Chevalier.

“Ammonite” director Francis Lee, who wrote the film’s screenplay, took poetic license in fleshing out the details of the lives of Anning and Murchison. It becomes quite a Geology Class. Call it Earthy Science.

Lee (director, “God’s Own Country,” 2017) has created a beautiful, at times painterly, film, filled with stark interiors, seaside vistas and lots of rocks and fossils.

The cinematography by Director of Photography Stéphane Fontaine (“Jackie,” 2016) is in tones of grays and browns and lingers long on the beautiful sculptural faces of Winslet and Ronan.

The sparse piano and violin score by composers Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran (composers, “The OId Guard,” 2020; Oscar nominees, original score, “Lion,” 2016) evokes the isolation of main characters Anning and Murchison, as well as the lonely seascape.

The attire by Costume Designer Michael O’Connor (Oscar recipient, costume design, “The Duchess,” 2008; Oscar nominee, costume design, “Jane Eyre,” 2011; “The Invisible Woman,” 2013) is plain for Anning and bright for Murchison.

“Ammonite” is chiefly worth seeing for the performances of Winslet and Ronan. In any other year, they would receive any number of critics’ groups accolades. Look for leading actress and supporting actress Oscar nominations for Winslet and Ronan.

Winslet (Oscar recipient, actress, “The Reader,” 2008, and seven-time Oscar nominee, in addition to “The Reader”: actress, “Little Children,” 2006; “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” 2004; “Titanic,” 1997; supporting actress: “Steve Jobs,” 2015; “Iris,” 2001; “Sense and Sensibility,” 1995) presents Anning as somber, peevish and mean-spirited. Her body language is such that she moves with the slow determination of a bulldog. Gradually, her frosty composure melts amidst the ministrations of Ronan as Murchison.

Ronan (four-time Oscar nominee: actress, “Little Women,” 2019; “Lady Bird,” 2017; “Brooklyn,” 2015; supporting actress, “Atonement,” 2007) creates in Murchison a nervous, repressed, perhaps depressed person awakened by Anning’s passionate pursuit of fossils. This, in turn, unearths emotions that overwhelm her.

Noteworthy in supporting roles are Gemma Jones (Molly Anning, Mary Anning’s mother), Fiona Shaw (Elizabeth Philpot), Claire Rushbrook (Eleanor Butters) and James McArdle (Roderick Murchison).

“Ammonite” is a miniaturist classic, evoking a time, an occupation and a love story that may or may not have happened, but is intriguing to discover on the screen.


MPAA Rated R (Restricted Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.) for graphic sexuality, some graphic nudity and brief language; Genre: Biography, Drama, Romance; Run time: 2 hrs. Distributed by Neon.

Credit Readers Anonymous:

“Ammonite” was filmed in Lyme Regis, West Dorset, England, where the real-life Mary Anning collected fossils in the early 1800s.

At The Movies:

“Ammonite” was seen at Banko Alehouse Cinemas, ArtsQuest Center, SteelStacks, Bethlehem. Online ticket purchasing, entrance temperature check of patrons, face masks wearing, social distancing in seating and hand sanitizers were in place. “Ammonite” was seen prior to the Dec. 10 coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic temporary restrictions announced by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolfe that closed movie theaters, among other venues.

Governor Wolf removed the temporary restrictions as of 8 a.m. Jan. 4. The website for AMC Center Valley 16, The Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley, Upper Saucon Township, states that the movie theater was to have reopened Jan. 4. The website for Frank Banko Cinemas, ArtsQuest Center, SteelStacks, Bethlehem, stated the movie theater is to reopen Jan. 4. The website for the Movie Tavern, Trexlertown, didn’t state when the theater was to reopen.

Movie Box Office,

Jan. 1 - 3: “Wonder Woman 1984” continued at No. 1 with $5.5 million, undisclosed number of movie screens, after setting a coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic era opening weekend record of $16.7 million Dec. 25- 27, the Christmas holiday weekend (topping the previous pandemic-era North America weekend opening record of $9.4 million set by “Tenet” in September); $28.5 million, two weeks.

2. “The Croods: A New Age” moved up one place, $2.1 million, 1,751 screens ; $34.5 million, six weeks. 3. “News Of The World” dropped one place, $1.6 million, 1,928 screens; $5.4 million, two weeks. 4. “Monster Hunter” stayed in place, $1.2 million, 1,807 screens; $5.4 million, three weeks. 5. “Fatale” dropped one place, $700,000, 1,183 screens; $3 million, three weeks. 6. “Promising Young Woman” dropped one place, $660,000, 1,333 screens; $1.8 million, two weeks. 7. “Pinocchio,” $284,035, 795 screens; $772,973, two weeks. 8. “The War With Grandpa,” starring Allentown’s Oakes Fegley, moved up two places, $115,000, 305 screens; $18.6 million, 13 weeks. 9. “Alien,” $75,000, 505 screens, one week, 2020 re-release. 10. “Freaky,” $55,000, 201 screens; $8.7 million, eight weeks. 11. “Come Play,” starring Allentown’s Winslow Fegley, moved up two places, $54,000; 110 screens; $9.5 million, 10 weeks.


Jan. 8:

“The Devil’s Light,”

No MPAA rating: Daniel Stamm directs Virginia Madsen, Nicholas Ralph, Colin Salmon and Ben Cross in the Horror Thriller. A nun undertaking an exorcism faces a demonic force with mysterious ties to her past.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY NEON From left: Kate Winslet (Mary Anning), Saoirse Ronan (Charlotte Murchison), “Ammonite.”