On Chesil Beach proves a most painful watch indeed
“Minor seventh might be better”
Dominic Cooke’s theatrical résumé includes such triumphs as Follies and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom so a measure of anticipation about his feature film debut was surely not unexpected. But I should have remembered he was also responsible for the challenges of The Low Road and In The Republic of Happiness and for me, it was to this end of the scale that On Chesil Beach tips.
An adaptation of Ian McEwan’s 2007 novella by the man himself, we’re in the world of classic 1960s English sexual repression. New graduates Edward and Florence come together in a theoretically perfect courtship but when they come together disastrously in marriage, their sexual inexperience on their Dorset honeymoon proves utterly and completely life-changing.
Structurally, the film tracks closely to the source material and while such fidelity could be considered worthy, it doesn’t necessarily work anywhere near as well on screen. So much of the storytelling is dumped into flashbacks which arrests any sense of narrative flow, and the final scene rushes fatally the other way into a mess of old-person latex which will leave you wiping away tears of the wrong sort.
Billy Howle and Saoirse Ronan struggle manfully against this but it just doesn’t really work. And if the supporting cast is full of faces (the two sets of parents are played by Adrian Scarborough and Anne-Marie Duff, and Samuel West and Emily Watson), there’s precious little to make you care about anything that is going on.