On Chesil Beach

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BBFC RatingOn Chesil Beach

GenreDrama, Romance
Director(s)Dominic Cooke
Running Time1HR 50MINS
SeasonMain Programme
Audio Accessible

Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird) and Billy Howle (Dunkirk) star in this adaptation of Ian McEwan’s acclaimed novel, about a newlywed couple whose honeymoon retreat becomes a comedy of sexual errors.

The story begins enticingly. "They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night." But the first sentence of Ian McEwan's compact, unforgettable novel continues: "and they lived in a time when conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible." On Chesil Beach has been called both a horror story and a comedy, because it's about what happens when newlyweds attempt to consummate.

Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle star as Florence and Edward, a young couple on their honeymoon at the English seaside. It is 1962, and overcast. Florence is a disciplined violinist, raised in a cold vice of middle-class repression. Flashbacks show her mother (Emily Watson) crushing all impulse with propriety. Edward offers Florence some promise of freedom. He was raised in the countryside in a more volatile family, and found liberation in literature and ideas. The two arrive at a Chesil Beach guest house in love and ready to begin their life together, but hopelessly ill-equipped for their first night.

Adapted for the screen by McEwan himself and directed by former Royal Court Theatre head Dominic Cooke, this is a beautifully precise anatomy of thwarted desire. Edward has worked himself into a volcanic state, but fumbles as he tries to express himself to Florence. She views the marriage bed with fear verging on revulsion. Neither of them knows what to do next, so they perform the social rituals of dinner and polite conversation until there is no recourse left to them. As On Chesil Beach reaches its shattering conclusion, it reveals a stark, primal scene from a marriage.


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