On Chesil Beach – movie review

On Chesil Beach introduces elements of theatre into a period drama about the relationship between two sensitive high-achievers.

It’s summer 1962, and England is still a year away from the huge social changes of the Swinging Sixties. Florence Ponting (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward Mayhew (Billy Howle), are a couple in their early twenties. Florence is a talented, ambitious violinist with a string quartet. Edward has graduated with a History degree and aims to become an author. Now on their honeymoon, they’re dining in their room at a sedate hotel near Chesil Beach in Dorset. Their conversation becomes more tense and awkward, as the prospect of consummating their marriage approaches. Finally, an argument breaks out between them. Florence storms out of the hotel. Edward pursues her, and their row continues on Chesil Beach.

Through a series of flashbacks, we learn about the differences between them – their attitudes, temperaments and their drastically different backgrounds. Florence was born into a prosperous, conservative family. Her neat home was presided over by her overbearing father (Samuel West), a successful businessman. Edward’s father (Adrian Scarborough) was a teacher, while his art expert mother (Anne-Marie Duff) was brain-damaged after an awful accident. Their home was somewhat chaotic and closer to nature.

On Florence and Edward’s fateful wedding day, one of them makes a major decision that will utterly change both their lives forever.

On Chesil Beach is a powerful drama about two people, both defined by their upbringing, bound by the social mores of another era. Adapted for the screen by Ian McEwan from his own novel, the movie is directed by Dominic Cooke (The Hollow Crown). Cooke allows the story to unfold slowly and methodically.

The performances of Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle are notable, largely – although not entirely – because they effectively employ reservation and restraint. When those characteristic shackles are loosened, those scenes resonate even more strongly.

The early ‘60s are well represented in the period detail.

A significant way into the picture we get a totally surprising twist. While blindsided, I was satisfied. After leaving the cinema, I was keen to discuss what went down with my fellow patrons. It’s that sort of picture: well-conceived and executed for an audience not looking for a quick fix or a pyrotechnic barrage.

Director: Dominic Cooke
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle, Emily Watson, Anne-Marie Duff
Release Date: 9 August 2018
Rating: M

Alex First

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