Will Steele’s review published on Letterboxd:
Francis Lee turned up at my screening and me being the little film nerd I am couldn’t stop thinking about how I was watching the film with the director present. I spent the ENTIRE time thinking of a cute question to ask him about LGBTQ+ representation in cinema and why it matters so much. Turns out he wasn’t taking questions during his talk at the end and I sheepishly exited the theatre without a socially-distanced hello or congratulations.
I’m almost relieved I didn’t get to ask a question, because it would’ve been a question for the sake of it. I wanted Francis Lee to notice me and see the admiration on my face. But that would’ve have been the case. Ammonite didn’t astound me nor did it fill me with that admiration I so intensely felt for God’s Own Country. The film itself is splendid, but rather sleepy. It’s subtle, but too quiet. The narrative scope is focused, but the historical events do limit how the story plays out. Forbidden passion which builds, erupts, settles and sours is a road well trodden.
As far as performances go, each actor gives exactly what they need to compliment Lee’s vision of romance. For Lee, love is so internal and confusing. It’s messy and can make cowards of all of us. Things go unsaid. Hands go unheld. Kate Winslet communicates this interiority with exquisite restraint. Winslet isn’t an actress I’d always associate with quietness as her lauded performances trend towards being so outwardly emotional. But here she is great, albeit maybe not as awards-worthy as early buzz might have you believe. Saoirse Ronan is just as elegant, but prone to tell and not show. Her character is written to be the more overt of the pair, and she plays it well, but Winslet is the beating heart of it all and Ronan’s presence feels complimentary overall.
Ammonite won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s gay as hell and all the better for it. The depiction of sex and sexuality is leaps and bounds from a stale male-centric fetishisation of lesbianism. Francis Lee lends his quiet and delicate style to the tale, whilst Winslet and Ronan compel you to invest in them as characters and as lovers. But it’s almost so quiet that the experience may be emotionally inaudible for some audiences. Subtlety
sadly doesn’t always sell. In our world today, subtlety is too similar to uncertainty, and people certainly don’t want more of that.