4 June 2018 | dave-mcclain
layered, profound and affecting
"On Chesil Beach" (R, 1:50) is a drama from first-time feature film director Dominic Cooke (known mainly for helming TV's "The Hallow Crown" and "National Theater Live: A Comedy of Errors"). The screenplay is by British writer Ian McEwan, adapting his own 2007 novella of the same name. The film stars multiple Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle - and was released one week after another literary adaptation, "The Seagull", in which the same two actors played young Russian lovers. This story follows two young Brits as they meet, fall in love and get married, focusing mainly on the wedding night.
Florence Pointing and Edward Mayhew have just been married and have arrived at a hotel at the titular beach for their honeymoon. Through an uncomfortable dinner in their room and awkward fumblings with their clothes, it becomes painfully clear that they are equally inexperienced and nervous regarding sex. As the evening slowly progresses, we see flashbacks of how their romance developed, with hints at what makes the prospect of sleeping together so uncomfortable for them - especially Florence. When things come to a head, the young marrieds have a seaside conservation which reveals much about who they are (and the era in which they live) and has very important consequences for the rest of their lives.
"On Chesil Beach" is one of the most layered and most profound movies you are likely to see in 2018. Woven in with the development of the romance, the developments on the wedding night and the repercussions of all of it are themes of sexual repression, gender roles, class differences, pride, regret, communication, forgiveness and, of course, love and marriage. Some will say that not much happens in this film, but there is still a whole lot happenING. And through it all, the considerable acting chops of the two leads (bolstered by solid performances from multiple Oscar nominee Emily Watson, Anne-Marie Duff, Samuel West, Adrian Scarborough and Bebe Cave) make the characters exceedingly sympathetic and relevant. This is a very well-done film without much action, but with plenty to show all of us. "A-"