On Chesil Beach

Film, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
(2user reviews)
On Chesil Beach

Repression and sexual angst play out at the season in Dominic Cooke's half-successful period adaptation.

A slim Ian McEwan novella, ‘On Chesil Beach’ stews with repressed emotion and sexual anxiety. The seismic social changes of the early ’60s course through its pages like an electric current. As its two young, unprepared newlyweds – Florence and Edward – suffer through a disastrous honeymoon night, your heart swells in sorrow and sympathy for them. On the screen, though, this self-adaptation – McEwan’s first screenwriting credit since ‘The Innocent’ in 1993 – loses some of that melancholy power. It’s not a bad movie, by any means, but it strains to turn a seriously introspective story into something cinematic. 

It’s 1962 and the cusp of the sexual revolution, but Middle England is still using a sex manual to navigate the sticky business between the sheets. Musical prodigy Florence (the ever-ace Saoirse Ronan, all brittle tenderness) approaches the consummation of her marriage like it’s an evening with the Babadook. Billy Howle’s history grad Edward, barely burying a sense of inferiority beneath his boyishness, adds a volcanic layer of male entitlement that slowly builds after a fantastically awkward dinner in their hotel suite. Instead of a romantic evening of wireless and chill, it all goes wrong. Ronan and Howle summon the edgy anti-chemistry of two people who suddenly realise they’ve made a terrible mistake.

Less successful are the efforts to add layers of back story via a series of deeply conventional flashbacks. By majoring on the pair’s courtship, Edward’s brain-damaged mum (Anne-Marie Duff) and Florence’s cruel dad (Samuel West) it saps the claustrophobic mood without adding much insight into the couple’s psychology. And a hint of an abusive relationship in the past is left hanging, like a key piece of evidence overlooked in a court case. Like much here, it works better on the page than the screen. 

By: Phil de Semlyen

Posted:

Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Friday May 18 2018
Duration: 110 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Dominic Cooke
Screenwriter: Ian McEwan
Cast: Saoirse Ronan
Emily Watson
Billy Howle

Average User Rating

3 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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tastemaker

Admittedly, I’m not too familiar with the works of the author but I did watch Atonement and there are a lot of similarities here; not just in the style of filming and acting, but narrative also. It ultimate can be summed up in the film’s last few minutes where a typically sad ending leaves you with more questions than you’re comfortable with. The acting is impeccable and Ronan clearly proves her worth of those Oscar nominations. Howle, who again, not too familiar with, is a charming revelation and it is him you follow and empathize with more than anything. A decent period watch, but if you get angry at unanswered questions, it’s probably not for you.

Tastemaker

Typical Ian McEwan, pulling at your heart strings and having you feel like the story is so much bigger than just the two people. 


Beautiful acting, sets and costumes. It did however leave me feeling flat and sort of helpless. 


I wish it was easier to sympathise with one of the two leads but I ended up being confused by them both. Sadly I think contemporary dating has changed out perspective on how to communicate with a partner, so it's difficult to understand why some scenes couldn't move along quicker.