Bittersweet love story which fails to leave a lasting taste.
In 2015’s Brooklyn, Irish born actress Saoirse Ronan was truly magnificent and 2017 sees her star in another romantic drama, this time in On Chesil Beach; an adaptation of the Ian McEwan novella of the same name. At only around 166 pages, it isn’t the weightiest of material, but with a great cast, and accomplished theatre director Dominic Cooke – making his big-screen debut no less – it had all the makings of being another great cinematic love story.
Unfortunately, it wavers a little in its execution, and whilst not without merit, On Chesil Beach fails to make a lasting impression, despite its separate parts being pretty great on the whole. The aforementioned Saoirse Ronan is as revelatory as always as Florence; her face is utterly captivating, and every time she is on screen, it is difficult to look anywhere else. Opposite Ronan is Billy Howle as Edward, who with a bit part in Dunkirk, and despite doing great work in The Sense of an Ending, is slightly less of a household name. Whilst he doesn’t necessarily do anything wrong, it is hard to shake the idea that with a slightly bigger budget or a more well known director, it would’ve been the sort of role to attract someone like Eddie Redmayne, and indeed the similarities between Howle and Redmayne prove a little distracting at times.
The story does feel a little padded, and whilst the structure is an interesting one, it is also one which has been overdone. The timeline flits around between one event (the wedding night of Florence and Edward), and the events which lead up to that point; their meet-cute, the blossoming of their relationship, and the fragile awkwardness which eventually leads them up to their somewhat clumsy wedding night (which is actually more of a wedding afternoon).
The “flashback” scenes are perhaps where the film is at its strongest; Howle and Ronan have a believable and palpable chemistry, and there’s some genuinely funny moments. It is worth noting this is the sort of film which generates a warm chuckle instead of hearty belly laughs however, but it is charming and whimsical enough.
It is worth mentioning Anne-Marie Duff who plays Edward’s severely brain damaged mother; she is absolutely wonderful in this role, and it is a shame she is somewhat underused in the film as a whole. The supporting cast is pretty strong all round in fact, with Adrian Scarborough (of Gavin & Stacey fame) being another of the standouts.
With its structure and constant changing between timelines hinting that everything is heading towards a breaking point, when that moment does arrive, it feels a little unearned. The “moment” comes across as being unnecessarily melodramatic and shamefully underwritten in terms of the explanation which follows.
Whilst it has its moments of poignancy and it is somewhat refreshing to see a romantic drama which does stray away from some of the saccharine conventions, On Chesil Beach fails to fully ignite. Its bittersweet conclusion is touching in places, but it also fails to establish a satisfactory explanation for the story’s eventual conclusion which leads to it bowing out with a whimper rather than a crescendo. It’s genteel pace and initially sunny disposition is inoffensive enough, but it does little to break new ground.