Title: On Chesil Beach
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director: Dominic Cooke
Screenplay: Ian McEwan, based on his own novel
Music: Dan Jones
Cinematography: Sean Bobbitt
10 years after ATONEMENT, Saoirse Roman reunites with author Ian McEwan in ON CHESIL BEACH, adapted by McEwan himself from his novella onto the silver screen, it is theater-hand Dominic Cooke’s directorial debut feature.
The film begins in 1962, in medias res, two just-married honeymooners Edward Mayhew (Howle) and Florence Ponting (Roman) swan along the titular beach, heading to the hotel while waxing lyrical about music, they are supposed to enjoy a romantic dinner and consummate their wedding night, only, the ensuing clumsily conducted whoopee-making turns out disastrously for these two first-timers, and their 6-hour marriage will come to a precipitous halt on the same beach.
Woven felicitously into the diegesis are discrete flashbacks representing the pair’s past, their familial backstory, the evolution of their romance, and their genuine communion up to the point, often cued by one specific emotion or reminiscences and chaperoned by lilting Bach-heavy classical pieces, which are definitely bespoke of the film’s fluent if inauspicious mood all for one’s ears’ pleasure.
At first glance, Edward and Florence is a brace of natural match, although he is hailed from a less affluent background, saddled with a brain-damaged mother Marjorie (Duff, persuasively rotates between two disparate frequencies with utter aplomb), whereas she is endowed with a bourgeois upbringing, leading a quintet as the first violinist, their love story blossoms with sufficient fondness and alacrity which elicits a consensus that they do love each other, it is not a “she’s not that into you” scenario.
So the sticking point eventually is leveled at Florence’s ostensible frigidity (although a potential skeleton in the closet is implicitly hinted with a young Florence sniveling under the looming shadow of her father, which signifies it may be more traumatic than congenital), aggravated by a deficiency of sex education on both parties, statistically speaking, everyone’s first sex experience is, more often than not, a disappointment, but what adds insult to injury is Florence’s shocking reaction and a hearty but inopportune suggestion that provokes an embarrassed Edward to rage-quit, whose immaturity even overshadows his oceanic maladroitness, in hindsight, it is beggar-belief that true love could be thwarted by such a commonplace incident, but as always, it is no use crying over split milk, for a spur-of-the-moment decision, Edward is punished on the pain of ruing the day for the rest of his life, especially when decades later he gets the tidings and fulfills his promise to see the quintet’s homecoming performance, what a price to pay and what hits home is the sharp contrast between a man’s idée-fixe and a woman’s malleability, which points up McEwan’s incisiveness.
The two leads, being a bigger name and a thrice Oscar-nominee, Ronan continues her amazing career transition of seeking out more complex roles offered to actresses in our equality-demanding era, and her Florence boldly melds a girl-next-door affinity with a modicum of resolution and domination that defies easy categorization. However, for this reviewer’s money, a tenderfoot Billy Howle outdoes Ronan here, completely sloughs off his loosey-goosey appearance (which looks rather old for his character prima facie), and sets in motion Edward’s multiplex make-up with conviction, sympathy and finesse (including one of the most awkward sex scenes in recent cinema-scape) and elicits a delectable charm that reverberates hither and thither, absolutely a star-making performance that beckons more meaty roles.
A pleasurable period drama that analyzes an edifying mishap with commendable moderation and deliberation, ON CHESIL BEACH might not possess ATONEMENT’s epic grandeur or stellar opulence, but in its cottage-industry approach, effectually carries off its wisdom and discretion.
referential entry: Joe Wright’s ATONEMENT (2007, 8.7/10).