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On Chesil Beach Movie Review

On Chesil Beach (2018) movie poster On Chesil Beach

Theatrical Release: May 18, 2018 / Running Time: 110 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Dominic Cooke / Writer: Ian McEwan (novel & screenplay)

Cast: Saoirse Ronan (Florence Ponting), Billy Howle (Edward Mayhew), Anne-Marie Duff (Marjorie Mayhew), Adrian Scarborough (Lionel Mayhew), Emily Watson (Violet Ponting), Samuel West (Geoffrey Ponting)

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There's something about Saoirse Ronan that makes you believe she belongs in any time and place, whether it's as an Irish immigrant in 1950s New York or a Sacramento teenager of the early 2000s.
On Chesil Beach casts her as a young woman in early 1960s England. Adapted from the 2007 novel by Ian McEwan (Atonement), this drama centers on the relationship of Florence (Ronan) and Edward (Billy Howle). Much of the film turns our attention to the titular location on the night of the day in which Edward and Florence have just been married.

Life as a married couple begins with an awkward, earlier than expected hotel room service dinner delivery and presentation. That is merely the tip of the awkwardness iceberg, as the couple proceeds to do what they are expected to do on a wedding night. Consummation is a challenge, though. Neither has ever had sex before and no amount of manual reading can exactly prepare them for what to expect.

Billy Howle and Saoirse Ronan play Edward and Florence, a couple whose relationship and marriage is the focus of "On Chesil Beach."

The film jumps around from that uncomfortable attempt to happier earlier experiences in the relationship, from innocent courtship to family introductions and interactions for the working-class Florence and Edward, who harbors aspirations of writing books on minor historical figures. Edward's mother (Anne-Marie Duff), afflicted with brain damage from a train platform incident, likes to parade and paint without her clothes on. Florence's mother (a single scene Emily Watson) mostly just judges.

We don't really warm to either party, but that doesn't make the rough patch they hit and aftermath any easier to endure.
About the time you think it might be drawing to a close, the film surprisingly jumps ahead to check in on the couple in two different time periods, sequences that flirt with sentimentality and manipulation but mostly without having earned the desired emotional payoff.

This is far from the first portrait of 1960s England we've seen and the film does nothing well enough to not make you think of other films like An Education and last year's The Sense of an Ending, which starred Howle as a young Jim Broadbent. Though competently reproduced, the setting of pre-Sexual Revolution England fails to compel, giving you nothing more to sink you teeth into than the strained relationship.

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Related Reviews:
Saoirse Ronan: Brooklyn Lady Bird Violet & Daisy The Way Back City of Ember The Grand Budapest Hotel
Billy Howle: The Sense of an Ending | Anne-Marie Duff: Nowhere Boy The Last Station
Emily Watson: Cemetery Junction War Horse Punch-Drunk Love
An Education Quartet A Single Man 45 Years
Summer 2018 Indies: First Reformed Eighth Grade Won't You Be My Neighbor? Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot Tully

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Reviewed July 26, 2018.



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