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
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.