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Shot by Steve McQueen’s regular cinematographer, Sean Bobbitt, and with impeccable attention to period detail, Dominic Cooke’s handsome adaptation of Ian McEwan’s 2007 novel pivots around a fusty seaside hotel, on a young couple’s wedding night in 1962. As a series of intervening flashbacks reveals, Florence (Saoirse Ronan, with an excellent British accent) and Edward (Billy Howle) are recent university graduates from predictably different worlds; she, a classical musician from an uptight, wealthy, middle-class family, he, the provincial son of a schoolteacher and a “brain damaged” artist (Anne-Marie Duff).
The film’s courtship scenes are convincingly sweet and ripe with teenage awkwardness, so it’s a tragic surprise when the newlyweds struggle, repeatedly, over the course of that evening to consummate their marriage. Each hurdle is treated as an opportunity for further intimacy, but it’s a case of one step forwards, two steps back as the couple inch closer to the act of sex. The film is pleasingly thorny on the subject of intimacy, sexual dysfunction and trauma.
However, an overwrought third act pulls the action into the present day (and sees Ronan and Howle in showy, prosthetic, old people makeup); this fidelity to the book’s coda feels like a missed opportunity. What could have been a bleak and boldly unresolved ending is undermined by a conclusion that is more traditionally sentimental – and more frustratingly resigned to love-story genre convention.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: On Chesil Beach review – pleasingly thorny, until the end | Drama films