LIFE’S A ROCKY BEACH

The film adap­tion of Ian McEwan’s novella Ch­e­sil Beach proves heavy go­ing at times as the dis­as­trous hon­ey­moon un­folds on screen

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - NEWS - VICKY ROACH

Sel­dom has the con­sum­ma­tion of a mar­riage been quite so ex­cru­ci­at­ing for au­di­ences to bear wit­ness to. Adapted by Ian McEwan from his Booker Prizenom­i­nated novella of the same name, On Ch­e­sil Beach tells the story of two new­ly­weds as they awk­wardly ne­go­ti­ate their way around their first night in a Bri­tish seaside ho­tel.

Ev­ery­thing about this stiff for­mal, overdec­o­rated set­ting feels wrong … from the bur­gundy satin bed­spread to the room-ser­vice din­ner, which ar­rives pre­ma­turely and is over­seen by two snick­er­ing wait­ers. They hover over Ed­ward (Billy Howle) as he grap­ples with a slice of melon crowned by a glazed cherry, leav­ing only af­ter they have served up the main course – an un­ap­petis­ing plate of meat, veg­eta­bles and boiled spuds that Florence (Saoirse Ro­nan) is barely able to swal­low.

Be­lieve it or not, things only go down­hill from here.

Sam Men­des ( Amer­i­can Beauty, Revolutionary Road) orig­i­nally signed on to di­rect this poignant, mi­nor tragedy – with Carey Mul­li­gan in talks to play the lead – but shoot­ing was de­layed af­ter Sky­fall went into pro­duc­tion.

The match would have been an in­ter­est­ing one; Men­des is a mas­ter of sup­pressed emo­tion.

Do­minic Cooke’s de­but as a fea­ture film direc­tor has plenty to rec­om­mend it, but there are times when the vet­eran the­atre maker lays it on too thick.

At one point, dur­ing din­ner, Florence’s toes lit­er­ally curl un­der the ta­ble. And when con­fronted by her hus­band’s clumsy amorous ad­vances, Florence’s phys­i­cal­ity is so rigid, you won­der whether rigor mor­tis has set in.

Cooke’s in­ten­tion, of course, is to con­vey his char­ac­ters’ ex­treme dis­com­fort, but what would have been small ges­tures on stage shout loudly on the big screen. And their dis­junc­ture with the flash­backs in which the char­ac­ters re­late in a much more nat­u­ral man­ner, feels ex­treme.

On Ch­e­sil Beach cuts be­tween the scenes in the ho­tel room, as Florence and Ed­ward cir­cle each other in their starched for­mal­wear, and the easy chem­istry of their early en­coun­ters.

He’s a work­ing-class his­tory ma­jor whose mother (Anne-Marie Duff) has suf­fered sig­nif­i­cant brain da­m­age in a freak ac­ci­dent; she’s an up­per-class vi­o­lin­ist who has a com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with her fa­ther.

These fa­mil­ial re­la­tion­ships go some way to ex­plain­ing their dis­as­trous hon­ey­moon.

But in the end, it’s mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion, com­pounded by the weight of so­cial ex­pec­ta­tion, that brings the young cou­ple un­stuck.

In the collision be­tween old-school Bri­tish sex­ual re­pres­sion and the lib­er­ated ’60s, they be­come col­lat­eral da­m­age. On Ch­e­sil Beach is not an en­tirely suc­cess­ful first fea­ture, but the char­ac­ters’ plight lingers long af­ter the cred­its have rolled. On Ch­e­sil Beach opens in cin­e­mas to­day

Billy Howle and Saoirse Ro­nan star in the film adap­tion of Ian McEwan’s Booker Prize-nom­i­nated novella On Ch­e­sil Beach.

The plight of the char­ac­ters lingers long af­ter the cred­its roll.

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