ROMANTIC DRAMA, 1hr 57min
STARRING: Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, James McArdle
Hands-on: Winslet (left) and Ronan
Mary Anning (Winslet) leads a thankless existence. A self-taught, top-tier yet unfairly sidelined palaeontologist (and actual person, on whom this character is broadly inspired), by the 1840s she is scrabbling for saleable fossils on the beach of Dorset’s Lyme Regis, where the weather is as bleak as her prospects. When wealthy tourist Roderick Murchison (McArdle) arrives in town professing admiration for her work, Mary is wary and ungracious. No surprises there! Roderick, undeterred, prevails upon her to keep his wife, Charlotte (Ronan), company while he continues to travel alone — a serious ask since Charlotte, who is reeling from the loss of her child, is even more down in the mouth than Mary herself.
Being hard up, Mary grudgingly agrees to the deal. Her first beach walk with Charlotte is a predictable bust, after which Charlotte rashly takes a dip-slash-drenching in the frigid sea and lands herself a fever. Worst vacation ever, plus Mary is now lumbered with her 24/7 care. Praise be for Winslet, who could coax the stuffing out of any shirt and brings a wealth of unspoken emotions to Mary’s defensive aloneness. Charlotte is wistful and lovely, with her droopy frailty, her statement hair and the emerging courage of her conviction. But Mary’s iron-willed reticence and the depth of feeling it safeguards are the heart of God’s Own Country writer-director Francis Lee’s sultry, slow-blooming love story. It’s also a love story that begs to be freed — from both the stifling constraints of its time and Mary’s fierce self-protectiveness. That this is such a Herculean ask on either front is the potent subtext of even the most understated moments.