Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan's 'Ammonite' Is Not the Sweet Romance You Might Expect

You'll have to excavate a hard exterior to fully appreciate 'Ammonite,' one of TIFF's best movies this year.


Like its heroine, the paleontologist Mary Anning, Ammonite is a hard movie to love at first. It’s terse and aloof, full of craggy edges that keep you from getting too close. But, also like Mary and the sea rocks she tends, Ammonite‘s hard exterior eventually gives way to something beautiful. 

The 19th Century romance starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan arrived at this year’s strange version of the Toronto International Film Festival as one of the most highly anticipated titles, and is now available to rent on VOD. Directed by Francis Lee, who made 2017’s God’s Own Country, it’s a queer period romance that is bound to draw comparisons to last year’s Portrait of a Lady on Firegiven that it’s also a Neon release and takes place largely by the sea. But Lee’s intentions are much different than Céline Sciamma’s, and Ammonite does not aim for, nor does it conjure, the same heart-swelling moments. Instead, it’s a somber portrait of a woman locked in her own intransigence, an armor she built up to protect herself in a time when a woman of her class and intelligence had few options. 

When the film begins, Mary is living a near-hermetic life with her mother in Lyme, England, scouring the cliffs for fossilized treasures and running a small gift shop for tourists. She’s visited by Roderick Murchison (James McArdle), a pompous hobbyist geologist who wishes to leech off Mary’s knowledge before he goes on a globe-trotting expedition. He’s accompanied by his wife, Charlotte (Ronan), a woman he deems suffering from melancholia, but is very obviously in a state of deep despair mixed with an unknown trauma. Roderick goes off on some foreign journey and asks Mary to entertain Charlotte while he’s gone. Mary reluctantly agrees because she’s in need of the funds he offers; Charlotte isn’t too pleased about the arrangement either.


Still, after Charlotte falls ill, Mary’s role evolves from chaperone to caretaker, and they turn from acquaintances into roommates. Friendship and eventually lust blossoms. Ronan plays Charlotte as slightly spoiled and naive as to the ways of people with fewer means than her, but neither timid nor virginal. She’s impish and takes pleasure in goading Mary, sensing their mutual attraction before the older woman will allow herself to act on it. 

But Lee is less interested in Charlotte than he is in Mary, and it’s Winslet’s performance that anchors the whole project. Winslet is committed to appearing as unvarnished as possible, contorting her face into Mary’s scowl, cultivated from years of exhaustion, hard work, and little recognition. She’s disinterested in the prim world Charlotte occupies, evident in one of their early meetings when she pees on the rocks, wipes her hands on her dress, and then hands her companion a hand pie she pulls from her bag to eat. Eventually, Charlotte brings out the tenderness in Mary, but there are few moments when we see her without some sort of guard up. She’s as harsh as the wind that blows on the coast, which, at times, drowns out anything else in the sound mix. Winslet’s performance often recalls Timothy Spall’s in Mike Leigh’s biopic Mr. Turner

Lee’s screenplay deliberately avoids exposition, allowing the audience to infer these women’s backstories through small gestures and what’s left unsaid. That is particularly true of Mary’s interactions with Fiona Shaw’s Elizabeth Philpot. Their shared history is never described, but Elizabeth’s determination to probe Mary’s psyche illuminates what might have been. 

Unlike so many historical LGBTQ love stories, Ammonite does not have a tragic ending, and the persecution that Mary and Charlotte would likely face hangs in the background of their interactions, rather than guides the narrative. It’s a personal, intimate story about a woman clinging to the little pride she has and how her elusive happiness could threaten that. When Mary and Charlotte’s time together finally explodes with passion in a sensual and extended sex scene, it takes you by surprise. That passion is hard won. Ammonite makes you chip away at the layers of a hardened soul before finally reaching it.Need help finding something to watch? Sign up here for our weekly Streamail newsletter to get streaming recommendations delivered straight to your inbox.

Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.


Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.


Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.


BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

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