On Chesil Beach
dir Dominic Cooke
scr Ian McEwan
prd Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley
with Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle, Anne-Marie Duff, Emily Watson, Samuel West, Adrian Scarborough, Bebe Cave, Anna Burgess, Mia Burgess, Mark Donald, Bronte Carmichael, Victoria Hamnett
release UK/US 18.May.18
17/UK BBC 1h45
On Chesil Beach
Young love: Howle and Ronan

duff watson west
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
On Chesil Beach Author Ian McEwan adapts his own award-winning novel for the big screen, turning it into another beautifully produced story about those things that the English prefer not to talk about. Namely, class and sex. The film is both provocative and moving as it traces a relationship to a pivotal moment, and the two central characters are performed with raw honesty by Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle.

It's the Dorset coastline in 1962, where Florence and Edward (Ronan and Howle) are spending their wedding night. As the long afternoon drags on, a series of awkward moments lead them to a frustrating encounter in bed. Through all of this, they are reminiscing about their relationship and its challenges, including Florence's posh, snobby parents (Watson and West) and Edward's brain-injured mother (Duff). And only since there are things they simply won't discuss, their courtship is sunshiny and full of promise.

On the surface this feels like a heart-rending romantic drama, but there's a lot more to it than that, as McEwan travels to dark human emotions that are rarely if ever depicted on-screen. This is a story about how repressing our thoughts and feelings can cause lasting damage both in our own lives and those around us. In other words, it's not the kind of movie we can just sit back and be swept away by; it worms into our thoughts, rustling our ideas about the role we play among our loved ones.

Ronan and Howle are terrific in demanding roles. Florence and Edward seem like the standard deliriously happy young movie couple, and yet the issues in their separate backgrounds, combined with the culture they live in, create thoughts the actors must reveal wordlessly. In revealing themselves, they add angles to their family lives and their growing romance, multiplying the film's intensity. Their costars feed into this perfectly, although perhaps only Duff catches the attention with her potently moving role.

With his feature debut, Cooke does a remarkable job keeping focus on the subtext, never getting lost in the period detail. Elements of the issues of the day are woven quietly into the fabric of the story, while the primary themes come straight from English culture, relating to class and economics as well as that stiff-upper-lip attitude. At its core, this is a profoundly moving story of a young couple trying to navigate the obstacles in their relationship. And what it suggests is profoundly haunting.

cert 12 themes, language, sexuality, violence 7.Oct.17 lff

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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall