Relationships can be beautiful, but sometimes, they can be very rough, and that is especially evident in On Chesil Beach, based on the 2007 novel by Ian McEwan (who also wrote the screenplay) and directed by Dominic Cooke. Both Florence Pointing (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward Mayhew (Billy Howle) get married and for their honeymoon, they arrive at a hotel on the titular beach, and while staying there, they each discover that they are equally inexperienced when it comes to sex. Along the way, we see flashbacks of how their romance blossomed along with hints of why both of them find the prospect of sleeping together uncomfortable, especially for Florence. All of this inevitably leads to an emotional confrontation on the seaside, leading to some very crucial consequences for the rest of their lives.
This film is a layered and profound exploration into the dissolution of relationships and the emotional baggage that can come from it; we see the slow developments of the romance, the following events from their wedding, and repercussions from their wedding night, and yet, interwoven with all of that are the themes of sexual repression, class differences, pride, gender roles, regret, communication, isolation, forgiveness, longing, as well as love and marriage. All these concepts and themes are tackled in a raw and mature way, and though some would say that not a lot happens in it or that the central characters are unlikable, this is still a thought-provoking and powerfully moving exploration into the complications of romance and how easily it can dissolve with the amount of personal baggage involved.
Saoirse Ronan is one of the best actresses of this generation (no surprises there!), and always manages to give it her all, even in movies that haven’t been as stellar, and she makes no exception here. The way she delivers raw emotion and hesitation in fully committing to a physical and sexual relationship is portrayed with a delicate maturity and confidence. The costume and set design are both exquisite, and Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography is gorgeous, especially when it comes to life during the extended beach sequence where it truly shines.
On Chesil Beach is a moving tragedy that delves into what love can mean, and how relationships aren’t always so perfect when made on such quick decisions. It’s an ambitious adaptation of a very difficult and touchy source novel, and even though the film itself is not completely perfect, it was a solid, honourable attempt, and Dominic Cooke and Ian McEwan deserves props for having a damn good crack at it.
Dir: Dominic Cooke
Scr: Ian McEwan
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle, Emily Watson, Anne-Marie Duff, Samuel West, Adrian Scarborough, Bebe Cave
Prd: Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley
DOP: Sean Bobbitt
Music: Dan Jones
Run time: 110 mins
On Chesil Beach is out now on DVD and blu-ray.