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On Chesil Beach – Movie Review

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On Chesil Beach – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

On Chesil Beach is a curious film that’s one half “boy meets girl” romantic drama and the other half a play-like deconstruction on sexual relationships. Even as the film threatens to get too sentimental, the plot is an intriguing one with two young lovers portrayed well by the lead actors. It’s a careful balancing act director Dominic Cooke and screenwriter Ian McEwan have to handle and both do a decent job. McEwan has the particularly tricky task of adapting his own novel. The best scenes, however, are when Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle are interacting and we see their different ideologies at odds with each other.

It’s understandable that Cooke comes from primarily a theatre background and in making his film directing debut, the best portions of On Chesil Beach come from the two protagonists in a hotel room. What results is a honeymoon with many obstacles and Cooke allows his actors space to take their characters where they need to be. At times, these scenes are appropriately difficult to watch and McEwan doesn’t shy away from the frank sexual dialogue a newlywed couple might speak. Ronan continues to prove herself as one of the best young actresses working today and gets through some rather difficult scenes that create immediate sympathy towards her.

However, we also need to understand the point-of-view of Howle’s Edward, too. McEwan tries to give both young lovers equal say in the matter and doesn’t attempt to show sides. The other half of the film isn’t nearly as compelling, but Cooke still manages to show the upbringing and home life of Florence and Edward and their meeting and falling in love. On Chesil Beach ultimately represents the two different phases of a romance: the initial puppy dog love and the ultimate test afterwards when they swear to spend every waking moment together. This could not have been an easy film to edit, as the filmmakers had to decide when to carefully piece certain moments together.

Adding to the presentation is stunning cinematography from Sean Bobbitt. The opening shots on the titular beach are magnificent and the scenes in the hotel room are framed so as to thematically highlight how these two are stuck together in this singular location. Where On Chesil Beach starts to wear thin is the climax. The final coda feels like a way to tie things up with a bow, but it isn’t entirely needed. The majority of the film is genuine in its sentiments, but one can see the violins being plucked as soon as they begin. However, these moments will certainly work their magic on some audience members better than others.

On Chesil Beach is not a conventional romance as it seeks to show the tricky tightrope required of two people in love. What elevates the material even further are the central performances from Ronan and Howle. Ronan’s career has already skyrocketed and she will continue to give more great performances in the future, but Billy Howle also seems like somebody with a bright and long lasting filmography on the horizon. Seeing these two interact does make for compelling cinema, even though the two are only in a hotel room for a good chunk of the runtime.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison