On Chesil Beach

Not what Edward expected to be doing on his wedding night
6/10 - a moving period drama featuring impressive performances by Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle
Release Date: 
Friday, May 18, 2018
Written by: 

Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle have the wedding night from hell in this period romance.


Saoirse Ronan has impressively notched up three Oscar nominations by her early 20s, and she could potentially add a fourth given her staggering performance in On Chesil Beach.

It is 1962, and Florence (Ronan) and her new husband Edward (Billy Howle) celebrate their wedding day by honeymooning at a hotel near Chesil Beach in Dorset, England.

The evening proves to be rather embarrassing and awkward, as Florence is afraid of sexual intimacy while Edward is ready to consummate the marriage.

That ill-fated evening, which will have lasting repercussions for the rest of their relationship, comprises the present day storyline and is interspersed with flashbacks showing them in happier times like their first meeting and courtship. We are also filled in about their troubled home lives, with Edward's mum Marjorie (Anne-Marie Duff) suffering from brain damage and Florence having a difficult relationship with her horrible dad Geoffrey (Samuel West).

The film is based on a novella by Ian McEwan, who wrote Atonement, and it is evident the events have been padded out to make it feature length. It didn't need so many flashbacks because they distract from the present day story, even if they do add colour to the characters and give context to the evening.

These are also questionably placed at times, with director Dominic Cooke cutting away at odd, jarring moments and diluting the tension of the present day scenes. Besides those interruptions, the hotel story is wonderfully shot and paced, expertly acted and truly uncomfortable to watch.

McEwan, who has adapted his own novella, has also bulked out his original story by adding time jumps towards the end, and these are a terrific idea, because they illustrate how one decision has impacted the rest of Edward's life.

These time jump scenes really ramp up the sentimental factor, and some could consider this too much, but they are very moving and emotional and bring the film to a poignant conclusion.

Ronan is superb as the repressed and reserved Florence and is matched by Dunkirk actor Howle, who has a showier, more obviously emotional part. Their performances are so impressive and elevate the drama. There is also no weak link in the supporting cast, which also includes Emily Watson.

On Chesil Beach won't appeal to everybody as it deals with a difficult subject matter, but it is worth a watch for the performances alone.

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