On Chesil Beach Review - Emotional, Powerful Character Driven Performances

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On Chesil Beach, from Bleecker Street Media and BBC Films, presents the story of two young lovers who embark on their wedding night with a book and impossible expectations only to find the disappointments too great to overcome.

Directed by Dominic Cooke and based on the novel of the same name written by Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach stars Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle, Emily Watson, Samuel West, Anne Marie Duff, Adrian Scarborough, Bebe Cave, Jonjo O’Neill, Bronte Carmichael, Nadia Townsend, and Mark Donald.

On Chesil Beach begins with Florence Ponting, played by Saoirse Ronan and Edward  Mayhew, played by Billy Howle, walking alone on a lonely, windy, stretch of beach on the Isle of Portland in the United Kingdom marveling over the fact they finally married.


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Facing the challenges her parents, upper crust snobs, as Florence would say, Violet played by Emily Watson, and Geoffrey, played by Samuel West, who can barely stand each other, and care less for their daughters, who insisted she'd be better off with someone closer to her pedigree. 

And the encouragement of his working class parents, Lionel Mayhew, played by Adrian Scarborough, whom she loves and his mother, Marjorie, played by Anne-Marie Duff, who as an artist made his life a bit eccentric, and his easy going family who supported them, the two made it through all the attempts to derail their relationship.

So here they were walking the beach, reflecting so early on things that could wait, they finally made it to the hotel where, as young lovers, they had wedding night plans. With her mother as cold as ice, her sex education was derived from an sterile anatomically correct guide which was clear as to the procedure.

In 1962, before the great sexual revolution conquered the globe, our two young lovers were struggling with their emotions, feelings and desires. We don’t discover the hidden heartache until later as it stands we only know what they both believe about themselves.

Without knowing anything else they knew they were madly in love. As the film intertwines the present with the past, we see how they met, promises made, beliefs of tomorrow’s, and hopes for forever. Even a contingency should there be bumps in the road.

As the two are trying to navigate the minefield of first times, for each, not simply with each other, she hears the phrases from the book in her mind and believing the instructions she proceeds, he unprepared for her sudden aggressiveness, has an early reaction which sends both into performance anxiety sending her running away out to the beach.

A deep anchored belief, and we only see a repressed memory flashing across the screen and are left to create our own conclusion, causes her to belief in a foregone conclusion.

She is intelligent, educated, talented, has seen appropriate experts and her belief of herself is the only one that matters. And here as the two recently married, face off over first time let downs she explains her life sentence, and he unable to comprehend what she is saying, retaliates and in anger, and probably embarrassment, says words that can’t be taken back. Suddenly the thin line between all or nothing had been crossed.

On Chesil Beach, a modern day Romeo and Juliet and while the two don’t literally die, they effectively die to themselves and the brief life they had imagined would be built on their love.

Oddly as we see the two after many years have passed, her self-imposed life sentence obviously had been annulled, and while she ended in a relationship of which she could control and not one that controlled her, it was manageable. She was respectable, with a life that looked satisfying. He, on the other hand, enjoyed his passions, and lived quietly.

Emily Watson is perfect as the upper aristocrat snob; crisp; chilly her every word drips with disdain for anyone outside their circle. Samuel West, equally the snob, with a dark secret. More than a bully, he is abusive.


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Anne-Marie Duff who plays Marjorie Mayhew, an artist who was dramatically injured and ended with an eccentric lifestyle, is able to generate both sympathy and respect. The film has moments when the family not understanding how one night could negate years of dating, Adrian Scarborough, who played Lionel is a stand out as he tackles the business of endings.

On Chesil Beach delivers powerful character driven performances which resonate. Expect the heartstrings to be tugged.

I became emotionally invested in On Chesil Beach. Draw into the film sharing their belief that love conquers all, I hoped with them, believed with them and cried when they couldn’t. It is good movie. On Chesil Beach opens May 18, 2018. See this film.

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