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With: Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle, Anne-Marie Duff, Emily Watson, Samuel West, Bebe Cave, Adrian Scarborough
Written by: Ian McEwan, based on his novel
Directed by: Dominic Cooke
MPAA Rating: R for some sexual content and nudity
Running Time: 110
Date: 05/18/2018

On Chesil Beach (2018)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The material — playing with time and innocence and sexuality — is strong, and the actors are game, but the movie goes on too long and relies on too much talk; it misses a chance to visualize the drama.

In On Chesil Beach, it's 1962 in England, and Florence (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward (Billy Howle) are in their honeymoon hotel, overlooking the gravel-covered Chesil Beach. It's the evening of their wedding. They flash back to their various times together, their first meeting, memorable conversations, and interactions with each other's families.

They are very much in love, but there is an unspoken tension in the room around the consummation of the marriage. Florence has rebuffed all of Edward's pre-marriage advances and they are both nervous and inexperienced. Their first attempt goes badly, and Florence runs out the door in panic and terror, down to the beach. Edward follows. They argue. Florence makes a proposal and Edward makes a choice.

For On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan (First Love, Last Rites, Enduring Love, Atonement) adapted his own 2007 novel, and the central idea is powerful. In a more innocent time, without any knowledge of sexuality or access to such knowledge, how is a young couple supposed to learn anything about each other's bodies? Why is there so much pressure on marriage and things being perfect?

McEwan explores these themes with emotional resonance, but the movie never moves beyond serviceable. Aside from the use of the fluid flashbacks, director Dominic Cooke keeps the action mainly in rooms, and conveyed mainly through dialogue. Twin scenes on the gravel-covered beach itself might have been cinematically powerful expressions, but they are instead broken up into functional cuts and softened with medium-focus.

The movie eventually begins to feel long and two epilogues, with the characters covered in age makeup, do not help much. However, there is still much to admire about On Chesil Beach, and it's worth a look.

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