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Review: On Chesil Beach slight tale of unfulfilled love

PUBLISHED: 17:05 17 May 2018 | UPDATED: 17:05 17 May 2018

Saoirse Ronan as Florence Ponting and Billy Howle as Edward Mayhew in On Chesil Beach. Photo: Lionsgate Films/Robert Viglasky

Saoirse Ronan as Florence Ponting and Billy Howle as Edward Mayhew in On Chesil Beach. Photo: Lionsgate Films/Robert Viglasky

Archant

Ian McEwan’s Booker Prize-nominated novella, a moving portrait of doomed love, set against the ravishing backdrop of the titular stretch of shingle in Dorset, comes to the big screen, starring three-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan.

Billy Howle as Edward Mayhew and Saoirse Ronan as Florence Ponting in On Chesil Beach. Photo: Lionsgate Films/Robert ViglaskyBilly Howle as Edward Mayhew and Saoirse Ronan as Florence Ponting in On Chesil Beach. Photo: Lionsgate Films/Robert Viglasky

On Chesil Beach (15)

**

Chesil Beach, far away in time. It’s 1962, the year before sex was invented according to Philip Larkin, and two awkward, virgin newlyweds are honeymooning in a posh hotel on the coast.

Nervous and anxious, impending carnality is forestalled through a series of flashbacks to their courtship: two Oxford students with first-class degrees, she (Saoirse Ronan) a musician from a very well to do family, he (Billy Howle) a history scholar from a more modest background.

Saoirse Ronan as Florence Ponting in On Chesil Beach. Photo: Lionsgate Films/Robert ViglaskySaoirse Ronan as Florence Ponting in On Chesil Beach. Photo: Lionsgate Films/Robert Viglasky

Adapted from prestigious Booker-nominated novel by a respected author, this period piece BBC Film about not having sex is just about the most thoroughly British film imaginable.

Ian McEwan’s 2007 short novel/novella is, out of necessity, a slight and delicate creation because its subject is how small moments can have enormous ramifications.

Only one thing happens in it and that event shouldn’t be anything special but its enormous impact reveals much about the repressive nature of British society back then.

It is exactly the sort of novel that has no place on the screen, but because it is acclaimed and by a famous author there seems to be some dim obligation to put it there.

It works beautifully on the page but even there it requires the indulgence of the reader. It’s a very tricky conceit to put on to the screen.

I think it would take someone with great cinematic nous to really break down the book and see if there was a way to make it work as a film. Instead, McEwan has done the adaption himself, it has been overseen by a theatre director and is simply a matter of giving faces and locations to characters and scenes in the book.

They are nice faces and locations, though Ronan’s delivery struck me as a bit mechanical in the crucial scene, though that could easily be defended as a legitimate choice for the character at that moment, but anyone not familiar with the novel is likely to be mystified and dumbfounded.


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