ON CHESIL BEACH (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW
Directed by: Dominic Cooke
Produced by: Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley
Screenplay by: Ian McEwan (Based on: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan)
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle, Emily Watson, Anne-Marie Duff, Samuel West, Adrian Scarborough
Cinematography: Sean Bobbitt
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
I watch a lot of films. I also write screenplays. Indeed, over the last twenty-five years I have studied and read many “how to” write screenplay courses, books, and articles. One of the major rules of screenwriting, as opposed to radio and television writing is to SHOW and not tell. Deliver your story via the images, performance and shot composition rather than obvious dialogue which spells everything out. As a writer of incredible talent Ian McEwan has, along with director Dominic Cooke and their editor, created an intriguing story of lost love and romance. It flashes forward and back between the past and present beautifully and certainly shows rather than tells the story in a less than obvious fashion. In fact, for me it was ultimately TOO subtle in delivery and the emotional ramifications of certain events are lost in the subtext.
The story begins in the 1960s as newlyweds, Florence and Edward, nervously entwine on their wedding day. As portrayed by the imperious Saoirse Ronan and compelling Billy Howle we are immediately empathetic of their situation and time. Because traditionally, unlike the more sexualised mores of today, religion and social convention would dictate that the couple were more likely to be virgins. Therefore the nervous glances and small-talk slowly build a sexual tension creating an incredibly awkward and embarrassing mid-point moment between the characters. McEwan’s script also flashes back to the past establishing how the characters met. Edward is a lower-middle class boy from a rural background while Florence’s family are more upper-middle class capitalists. As presented in other McEwan works class tensions also propel the drama as Florence’s family look down on Edward somewhat.
There is a lot of depth within the characterisations notably from Ann-Marie McDuff as Edward’s unfortunate mother. Although, at times I wasn’t sure how her mental condition was linked to the themes of the piece, the performance of the actor alone was fascinating throughout. Ultimately, it’s a film about love, loss and terrible secrets; notably how past events can haunt the present. However, in choosing to bury the big reveal within a blink-and-you-miss-it flashback, the poetic editing, in my opinion, took away from the dramatic power and potential catharsis in denouement. On occasions telling us as well as showing us can empower an audience to feel even more for the characters.
Dominic Cooke marshals the film with an assured hand as befits an experienced theatre director. Ronan and Howle give brilliant performances. In fact, I don’t think there is a better and more consistent young actor than Saoirse Ronan. In films such as: Atonement (2007), Hanna (2011), Brooklyn (2015), Lady Bird (2017) and now On Chesil Beach (2017), she has proved herself capable of capturing depth and emotional power with her performances. Ronan and her romantic counterpart, Howle, make the film worthy of your attention even if I was left mildly bewildered, valiantly trying to work out why their characters’ relationship was doomed to fail.
(Mark: 8 out of 11)