Wedding Jitters (Film Review: “On Chesil Beach”)


Saoirse Ronan shines in a portrait of two young souls meant to be together, but for the sexual pressures and societal expectations which threaten to tear them apart.

SnapShot Plot

In 2018, its hard to imagine a time when (what we consider) pretty standard mores of sexual behaviour were themselves groundbreaking and polarizing. But in England in 1962, the Sexual Revolution in America had yet to ‘cross the pond’ in any significant way, and for young people on the brink of adulthood, it was often a confusing mess.

On Chesil Beach captures that sensibility in an intricately orchestrated and nuanced story of first love, with two luminous performances by Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird; Brooklyn) and Billy Howle (Outlaw King; Dunkirk; The Seagull). Ronan is the disciplined and accomplished violinist, Florence whose rigidity in her dealings with her burgeoning classical quartet group translates to her private life. But when she meets Edward, a somewhat aimless but brilliant history graduate from the wrong side of the tracks whose idea of great music is Chuck Berry, it’s instant chemistry and – for Florence – an emotional loosening the likes of which she’s never experienced. Their courtship progresses  – with a sprinkling of intriguing flashbacks to their respective family dramas – straight thru to a fateful wedding night when their entire future hangs on the question of ‘will they or won’t they’, with profound consequences in store for them both.



Parting Shot

On Chesil Beach was written for the screen by Ian McEwan from his own 2007 novella, the latest in a long line of his books which have been re-imagined for movie audiences (Atonement; The Imitation Game; The Comfort of Strangers, to name just a few.) This movie is all about the small moments, and in the hands of Dominic Cooke (in his feature directorial debut) it is painstakingly crafted much like the notes in a piece of classical music that could be played by Florence’s quartet.

The larger truth here is that we are witness to a tale of ultimate sadness and failure. On Chesil Beach is more a story about what doesn’t happen rather than what does. The question of marital consummation is so loaded with social, religious and political ramifications that it easily becomes the standard-bearer of what is considered normal and right. Add to that pressure cooker two highly intelligent virgin newlyweds, one of whom has no idea what he’s doing and the other absolutely terrified to take the physical leap toward true intimacy, and the stakes become dire. We keep returning time and again to the couple on their wedding day, with closeups of Florence’s clenched fists and the painfully clumsy overtures on Edward’s part, eventually moving to their explosive confrontation on the eponymous Chesil Beach. It makes obvious sense that the story is named for the place, as the the final movement shows us how the trajectory of two lives is quite literally drawn from ‘a line in the sand.’

On Chesil Beach is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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YouTube Trailer:

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