Just one week after the opening of the excellent indie The Seagull, in which Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle play star-crossed lovers, they are back at it again. But this time it’s in a much more serious drama, On Chesil Beach. Awkward timing most likely is responsible for the dueling releases starring the young pair, but both movies are well worth seeing, On Chesil Beach, based on the book by Ian McEwan (who also did the screenplay adaptation), is a highly unusual drama set in 1962 and dealing with the delicate nature of love, sex, young marrieds and the pressures and difficulties of physical intimacy for those who aren’t quite ready.
Ronan plays Florence, and Howle is Edward, who are from opposite sides of the social scale. But somehow they find each other and strike up a romance, which we see play out in a number of flashback scenes that are idyllic, playful, tense and loving. We come to like and understand this couple — that is, until their relationship hits rocky waters on their wedding night. The film begins and ends during this period where most couples are celebrating the beginning of a life together. But Florence has real difficulty in allowing herself to get intimate with Edward when the time comes, and that is the beginning of an agonizing several hours in their young lives.
As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), both actors are simply superb in difficult roles, with Howle particularly impressive — as he was in his dour role in The Seagull — as a young man from a working-class background finding himself in over his head and married too soon to handle it all. The same definitely is true of Ronan’s confused and conflicted young woman, and you can blame a lot of their problems on the pressures society puts on them. It will be interesting to see how younger audiences, used to a much more open time when it comes to all things sexual, take to this story of a mismatched pair caught up in a sad and heartbreaking situation. Emily Watson, Anne -Marie Duff, Adrian Scarborough and Samuel West are among the fine supporting cast in this film nicely directed by Dominic Cooke. But On Chesil Beach belongs to its stars: the always-great Ronan, and Howle, who with the one-two punch of this film and The Seagull comes into his own as one of today’s most promising new stars.
I haven’t seen a movie that deals so sensitively with such delicate matters about a young married couple since the underrated 1966 drama The Family Way, starring Hayley Mills and Hywel Bennett as conflicted newlyweds whose marriage has yet to be consummated. That film also was notable for a rare instrumental score by Paul McCartney but mostly for the kind of quiet truths that On Chesil Beach also is not afraid to confront. Producers are Stephen Woolley and Elizabeth Karlsen. Bleecker Street puts it in limited release Friday.
Do you plan to see On Chesil Beach? Let us know what you think.