by Ian Morton
Capturing a convincing relationship for the big screen can often be one of the hardest things for filmmakers to achieve. Held to ransom by both script and performance, movies that chart the course of ‘love’s long journey’ often swing between modern-day drama and b-movie rom-com territories. The most common complaint often calls out formulaic plot structures and typically cliche endings. With the 90’s seemingly creating the archetype for the copy and paste elements of the genre, it seems apt that in order to create something new, we must visit another time altogether.
On Chesil Beach is a film brimming with potential, as the story delves into life before the rapid social change of the swinging 60’s. Written and adapted of the big screen by novelist Ian McEwan, the story follows newlyweds Florence and Edward, mere moments after exchanging their nuptials. As the couple settle in their hotel room, they are forced to reflect on their burgeoning romance as the pressures of 50’s life crush their hopes for an enjoyable wedding night.
Considering this is his first feature film, Dominic Cooke does a remarkable job behind the camera. Swapping the boards of the West End, for a BBC picture, the former artistic director does an incredible amount with surprisingly little, giving the audience much more than you would expect from a newcomer. Taking advantage of the setting, the film feels more like a stage play than sprawling blockbuster, bringing an intimacy that few others manage to achieve.
This intimacy is further felt from the performances of both Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle. With a strong chemistry, the two leads act as the postcard couple for the era, charming the audience and easily making you care about the events unfolding on screen. When you add in a steller wider cast, in particular the heart wrenching performance of Anne-Marie Duff, the result is a film that almost stands on performance alone.
Unfortunately however, its not until the film begins to pick up pace that we start to see the seams unravel. In trying to lay the groundwork, it soon becomes apparent that the story has bitten off more than it can chew. By exploring the relationship of both leads, the short running time soon puts strain on the plot, causing pacing to take second seat in order to tie up the loose strings that ultimately dissipate the impact of some later, key scenes.
The ending itself is disappointing as the screenplay somewhat surprisingly falls back on more archetypal plot structures. As a result, the ending feels more tacked on in the hope that it will make you cry rather than make you reflect upon the contrasting time periods between then and now. It’ is a shame given the complexity of the first half which has given much food for thought over the time since watching the movie.
On the one hand, On Chesil Beach creates an interesting and thought provoking drama following the lives of a young, impressionistic couple as they face the ups and downs of a relationship in the 50’s. On the other, we have an ending so forced to evoke a response that it stumbles through the same pitfalls as many modern romance films. The result is a beautiful, endearing, and heart wrenching film that lacks the perfect end it deserves. 3 out of 5 stars.
Check out what we thought of last year with our top 10 of 2017:
Top 10 films of the year – The Big Dudes perspective!