Adapted by the author of the 166-page novella it is based on, Dominic Cooke’s On Chesil Beach offers the promise of expanding upon Ian McEwan’s source material. Unfortunately, however, there is a significant backstory that – although purposefully left ambiguous – is a detriment to an otherwise quite powerful period piece.
McEwan is very good at pausing and examining moments of time and, as such, On Chesil Beach could be thought of as a tragedy of anticipation. The pace of the film is balanced between the excited rush of an engagement, told through multiple flashbacks, and the clumsy two hours of the newlyweds’ fateful wedding night that it all leads up to.
The young couple carry the weight of sexual and societal expectation on their shoulders. But the story is set within a curious era – the year, according to Philip Larkin, before sex began. We observe their nervousness and vulnerability as they cross this rite of passage to become adults; they don’t quite know how to act, and struggle through half-formed sentences and pregnant silences unable to express themselves.
Previously cast as Briony Tallis in Joe Wright’s Atonement, Saoirse Ronan appears as if she were made to play Florence; she combines physical fragility with a snobbish class awareness. The camera seems slightly more sympathetic to her than it does to Edward (Billy Howle), but nonetheless they create an engaging dynamic. Although it must be said, this really isn’t a date night movie.
On Chesil Beach is a Brit-flick that might excite pre-existing fans of McEwan or perhaps a director like Terrence Davies, but one that will inevitably be overshadowed by the more exciting titles in the festival. It’s nice to see Saoirse Ronan is having a moment – we can’t wait for Lady Bird.
CAST: Saoirse Ronan, Emily Watson, Anne-Marie Duff, Samuel West
DIRECTOR: Dominic Cooke
WRITERS: Ian McEwan (screenplay), Ian McEwan (novel)
SYNOPSIS: A drama set in the early 1960s and centered on a young couple on their honeymoon.[TRAILER FORTHCOMING]