On Chesil Beach is a well-acted, sensitive adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novella.
Annus Horribilisby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Set in 1962, significantly the year before ‘sexual intercourse began’, according to Philip Larkin in his poem Annus Mirabilis, the film is imbued with the lingering postwar starchiness of that time.
Edward (Billy Howle) and Florence (Saorise Ronan) are young university graduates, he in history with ambitions to be an author, and she in music; she is a talented violinist with her own string quartet. We see the young couple first on their wedding night in a traditional seaside hotel on Dorset’s spectacular wild sweep of Chesil Beach. But inside their hotel room, the atmosphere is much more inhibited, as they endure a gruesomely stilted silver-service meal in their room, followed by an attempt to consummate their marriage that goes traumatically wrong: they are both virgins. An anguished confrontation on Chesil Beach dictates the future course of their lives.
As the repercussions unfold, flashbacks show the disparity of their backgrounds, one wealthy, one intellectual but humbly off, the class snobbery that would poison their relationship, their innocence about sex and their inability to discuss it. The film goes on to outline a life of missed opportunities, wasted lives, success and failure, and regret.
Florence’s parents are played by Samuel West and Emma Watson, Edward’s by Adrian Scarborough and Anne-Marie Duff. Performances are universally excellent and the film is tastefully well done, though rather muted.
On Chesil Beach screens in the 61st BFI London Film Festival on 8, 10 and 15 October 2017.