On Chesil Beach Movie Review: Saoirse Ronan Keeps Afloat

The last time Saoirse Ronan starred in a film based on an Ian McEwan novel was Atonement back in 2007. Atonement was her big break and she landed an Oscar nomination in Best Supporting Actress for her performance. Since then, she’s ascended to leading-lady status and has now transported back to the literary world of Ian McEwan by starring in a film adaptation of his novel On Chesil Beach. Saoirse Ronan delivers a luminous and quietly commanding performance as a newly conflicted bride. However, she manages to be the only reason to watch On Chesil Beach which has a thoughtful story that still gets washed ashore.

On Chesil Beach follows a newlywed couple, Florence (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward (Billy Howle), and depicts their honeymoon at a hotel. Throughout the day, the couple tries to have sexual relations which leads to ongoing complications. We also get flashbacks of their respective lives before their spontaneous marriage took place.

That’s mainly what the film is about. It’s about a couple struggling to have sex for almost two hours and it’s as tedious as it sounds. Even though we do get Florence and Edward’s backstories, they don’t provide much insight into their hormonal struggles and the flashbacks feel more like time filler than anything else. Granted, if the film took place almost entirely in the hotel, it would’ve felt like a filmed stage play.

Interestingly, despite the film centering around a couple, the filmmakers seem more interested in one half of the couple than the other. We get plenty of insight into Edward’s backstory. But as for Florence, the only backstory we get from her is a few scenes with her family. To add insult to injury, Emily Watson appears in literally one scene as Florence’s mother. Much like Belle and The Theory Of Everything, On Chesil Beach continues the tradition of films wasting Emily Watson’s talents.

Saoirse Ronan may have top billing despite the film being more focused on Billy Howle’s storyline. But that’s mainly because she’s the more established name and also, she’s the main reason to see this. If it wasn’t for her, the film would be completely unwatchable since the film drags at a glacial pace and she and Howle have little romantic chemistry which breaks a cardinal rule when making a romance. Even if the romance at hand meets a turbulent end, there still needs to be compelling chemistry between the two leads so that when the ending takes place, it has a heartbreaking effect.

Despite the efforts of its leading lady, even she can’t save On Chesil Beach from drowning. It wants to provide commentary on marriage and sexuality. But its depiction of both themes never comes together due to a lack of romantic chemistry between the leads and its jumbled storytelling.

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Matthew St.Clair

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