On Chesil Beach


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

On Chesil Beach
"The attempted act of consummation has a theatrical element to it. She is too passive, he is too angry."

In the early Sixties it was not unusual for virgins to marry each other. Unless they had parents who talked about sex without reverting to analogies involving farm animals they faced the dreaded wedding night with trepidation and terror. Of course, they hadn't a clue. What with premature ejaculation and vaginal pain this initiation ceremony was a form of psychological and physical torture. Only true love and humour could pull them through.

Ian McEwan's novella is all about this and Dominic Cooke's film is beautiful to look at. The chemistry between Saoirse Ronan as Florence and Billy Howle as Edward is strangely absent. Perhaps this is intentional but for Florence to find out that her husband of a few hours is prone to violence might be credible in an arranged marriage but not one between an intelligent emancipated middle class violinist and an apprentice groundsman with a brain damaged mother who is into Chuck Berry, not Bach.

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The hotel in Dorset where the action, or lack of, takes place could not have been Florence's choice (Edward would not have been asked). It is an upmarket Fawlty Towers, old fashioned and tasteless, with comic incompetents on the staff. A cave beneath Beachy Head would have been more romantic.

Flashbacks to where they met - CND meeting - and glimpses into their separate families help. Anything to get away from that ghastly hotel and the young couple's inability to communicate.

The fumbling farce of The Encounter emphasises how far apart and different they are which beggars the question, why are they here and why did they marry?

The attempted act of consummation, which is like watching snails eat each other, has a theatrical element to it. She is too passive, he is too angry. Afterwards, when they talk finally on the beach, life returns to the film and emotions flare and feelings run the rapids, but it's too late. What follows is a bigger mistake. You meet Edward and Florence again decades later - twice. It doesn't help. This is not about their futures; it's about their nows.

Ronan is excellent, Howle is not, which confirms yet again a certain incompatibility. Also, you can always judge a film by how it handles village cricket. Pavilion rules dictate that even hopeless batsmen should attempt to hit the ball. Not here. Edward comes in late and simply allows the bowler to knock down his middle and leg. Maybe this is a reflection of how he feels. Would you have him on your team?

Reviewed on: 16 May 2018
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A honeymoon couple struggle to physically and emotionally connect in 1962
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Director: Dominic Cooke

Writer: Ian McEwan, based on his novel

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle, Emily Watson, Anne-Marie Duff, Samuel West, Adrian Scarborough, Bebe Cave, Jonjo O'Neill, Mark Donald, Bronte Carmichael, Nadia Townsend

Year: 2017

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


London 2017

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