Let’s talk about sex, baby. “On Chesil Beach” for a movie about sex has very little of it happening on screen so don’t get too excited. This lyrical adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel (check out my review of his novel “Sweet Tooth” here) with the screenplay by the author has just debuted on South African screens. It’s worth a watch, especially if you’re a McEwan fan, but far from brilliant.
Florence (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward (Billy Howle) are in love but come from very different backgrounds. They can talk for hours, have fun together and his family loves her. But are they truly a match? They’ve never had sex or know much about it, which will make their wedding night truly unforgettable and not in the right way.
The narrative in the movie splits between the said wedding night and how the relationship had progressed leading to it. Sounds promising? Perhaps but something went wrong. Maybe it’s just that two hours for an adaptation of a very short novel (or should I say a novella? The Booker Prize Committee seemed confused too!) was just too much screen time, which is why it resulted in lengthy story telling?
The movie certainly addresses a number of interesting issues such as sexual (and general) compatibility, the importance of sex in a relationship, sexual frustration of well-behaved people. I can’t complain about the acting either. The performances by both actors are, in fact, very strong. Seeing that their relation is the focal point of the story, it adds a lot to the movie. You may remember Saoirse Ronan as a young girl from another adaptation of a McEwan novel, “Atonement”. Already there she was a remarkable actress and she doesn’t disappoint in “On Chesil Beach”. She’s detached, calm and perhaps slightly deprived of emotions, just like I imagined Florence when reading the book. Billy Howle as Edward is quite a straightforward guy, at the same time fierce and awkward. Other actors are somewhat peripheral but they do a good job too. I also really appreciate the music and beautiful scenery.
Unfortunately, it was just all not enough to keep my attention through the movie. I really like deep, well-constructed characters but this movie completely forgets that there needs to be some action. Watching the film felt a little bit like watching a couple’s therapy session.
To sum up, “On Chesil Beach” is an okay plus watch. I can see and appreciate what the director and the scriptwriter tried to do there but I’m not buying it as a product. Now to finish off I’ll share with you an amusing anecdote about the writing of the novel: Apparently, Ian McEwan has admitted to taking a few stones from Chesil Beach in a radio interview. He kept them at his desk when writing. This confession caused protests by Mother Nature lovers as that was apparently illegal, which the author hadn’t know about. He ended up paying a fine of 2000 pounds. Go figure, the Brits!