It’s 1962 and Florence (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward (Billy Howle) are just married and about to spend the first night of their honeymoon in a hotel on Chesil Beach. Unfortunately sexual repression, pressures and possible abuse all play a part in a fateful night.
Initially the story here feels slight, it is after all focused around one wedding night. But as the evening plays out we are shown a multitude of flashbacks that inform us about the couples young love and moments in their own lives that inform us about their fears and experiences. As we see more of their stories the more depth this tale develops and the more we care about Florence and Edward. The two lead performances are really impressive, as they hold your attention throughout and capture the era of the setting.
In terms of direction it feels very obvious that Dominic Cooke has a theatre background, as it is staged in such a way that you could envisage it up on stage in this exact format. And perhaps the stage might be a better home for it given it’s slow build and mostly two handed structure. Ian McEwan adapted his own novel for the screenplay and it’s the second film based on one of his novels to feature Ronan, Atonement being the other.
Whilst I can appreciate some might find it too slow paced or too downbeat, On Chesil Beach has plenty of character and when the ending comes it is a truly painful punch to the gut for any romantics watching.