(director/writer: Francis Lee; cinematographer: Stéphane Fontaine; editor: Chris Wyatt; music: Volker Bertelmann/Dustin O’Hallorohan; cast: Kate Winslet (Mary Anning), Saoirse Ronan (Charlotte Murchinson), Fiona Shaw (Elizabeth Philpot), Gemma Jones (Molly Anning), Claire Rushbrook (Eleanor Butters ), Alec Secareanu (Dr. Lieberson), James McArdle (Roderick Murchison), Sam Parks (Curator), Liam Thomas (Museum Workman); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Emile Sherman/Iain Canning/Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly; Neon; 2020-UK)
“A salvageable gay film suited for a hetero audience.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Francis Lee (“God’s Own Country”) is the English writer-director of this dull but intimate lesbian period-piece drama. It’s a biopic of the real-life famous 19th century spinster paleontology pioneer Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) and her erotic affair with the depressed geologist Charlotte Murcinson (Saoirse Ronan), trapped in a loveless marriage with her wealthy scientist husband Roderick (James McArdle).
It’s an intelligent film about forbidden love that’s set in the 1840s in the Lyme Regis (the Dorset region). Anning’s beautiful fossil finds in Lyme Regis were credited to her inferior male scientific establishment colleagues, who stole the fossils and banned her from their societies and clubs. This mistreated female scientist in Victorian England, due to circumstances of the times by the male society keeping women repressed, left her financially strapped and forced to survive by running a tourist trap gift shop in Lyme Regis (“Anning’s Fossils & Curios”).
Mary lives a quiet life in the Lyme Regis with her mother (Gemma Jones).
On a visit by a complimentary-filled phony London scientist, Roderick Murchison, who pretends he likes Anning’s work he viewed in the British Museum, and who comes to Lyme Regis with his unhappy wife Charlotte to learn fossil hunting from Anning. He offers her a large cash payment for her to provide lessons and the lodgings and care for his wife with Mary. When the lessons ends, he’s off alone to explore Europe.
When together by themselves, life for both women bubbles over with a new found joy and the ocean breezes from the Dorset coastline refreshes them as they make a passionate love connection. Though both actresses are superb and their love relationship moves them emotionally, it might not move the viewer in the heart as much as it does in the head. The story never catches fire, as it turns out to be instead a delicious acting showcase for the ladies. It results in a salvageable gay film for a hetero audience.
Stéphane Fontaine’s camera keeps things visually soothing with its gorgeous beach location shots and with its warm camera angles it uses for the hot romantic scenes.
REVIEWED ON 11/28/2020 GRADE: B