On Chesil Beach
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle, Emily Watson, Anne-Marie Duff, Samuel West
Set just on the cusp of the permissive 60s (1962 to be precise), this adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novella, scripted by the author, feels more 50s fustiness than the subsequent decade, despite the intermittent explosive insertion of Chuck Berry and jaunty jazz into the tasteful classical score. The drama revolves around the wedding night of young couple Florence (Ronan) and Edward (Howle) as they anxiously anticipate sex for the first time in a rather seedy Dorset hotel room. The story flashes back to illustrate their respective lives and early courtship. She is a wannabe violinist from a staunchly conservative middle class background. He is from a more modest and less settled rural background. His mother Marjorie (Duff) was brain-damaged by a shocking accident with a train door, and it’s Florence’s kindly and patient treatment toward her that in part convinces Edward that she is the one. Once they are engaged, Florence’s father (West) offers Edward a job at his factory; not really a perfect fit for a history graduate. The Dorset coastline is handsomely rendered in wistful grey and blue, but the picture is hindered by a middlebrow and over-literary feel. The young leads are impressive, particularly the ever-estimable Ronan as the furtive, fastidious Florence, but other actors are not so lucky, particular Emily Watson in a one-dimensional role as Florence’s frosty Tory mum. The flash-forward to the 70s conclusion is contrived, demonstrating that what on the page may feel elegantly constructed, can seem mannered and overly-schematic in its translation to the screen.