Here is another film that left me perplexed…. in a good way.
On Chesil Beach is a love story but not a traditional love story. It follows a young couple freshly married on their wedding trip to a hotel by the beach. They both seem nervous and anxious around each other, which we assume is because they have never been intimate before. Their story is told through flashbacks to their earlier lives before they met.
Florence (Saoirse Ronan) comes from an affluential family. Edward (Billy Howle) comes from a working-class family. She is a musician, and he is an aspiring historian who wants to write a book about historical figures who have been ignored or not given enough attention and not enough praise for their contributions. They both seem full of ambition and hope for their future — a typical characteristic of idealistic young people. However, at the hotel, amid their wedding night, is when everything falls apart for this young couple.
On Chesil Beach is based on a novella of the same name by Ian McEwan, who also wrote the screenplay. The book was a big deal when it first came out, and it was shortlisted for the booker prize. I was working as a bookseller for Barnes & Noble when the book was released in 2007, and I remember how popular it was back then. The book was much shorter than the usual Ian McEwan novel, still, it was a well-received book and sold great.
Directed by Dominic Cooke, who makes his feature film directorial debut, and manages to create a thought-provoking, moving adaptation. Most notably, in the tone of the movie, capturing the awkward situation in the hotel room. Their difficulty with intimacy, the silent moments. The visual language expressing repressed feelings and emotions held within them. The terrible looking food they have to eat, the suitcases on the bed. All those little details were great. The unpleasant hotel room sex scene was well done; it was executed thoughtfully and not comical.
The film moves from the 1960s to the 70s, and concludes in 2007, it is never easy to move through time periods with the same actors using makeup and prosthetics, but all the time shifts worked well for me. The film vaguely alludes that her father abused Florence. It leaves the audience wondering whether she was sexually assaulted or there was some form of abuse, but we never really get those answers.
Tragedy and regret are what essentially is at the heart of this film—the meaning of love, and how decisions made in an instant can last a lifetime. On Chesil Beach is an ambitious adaptation that follows the source material faithfully, except for its ending, which is a perfect example of why I love cinema.
Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿