It was back in the days when a married couple had sex for the very first time on their wedding night. As such, sex on the wedding night for the first time is an extremely stressful experience which many a couple try without much knowledge of the sexual act.
This is not a common topic, so ON CHESIL BEACH based on the novel by British writer Ian McEwan that was selected for the 2007 Booker Prize shortlist makes a welcome premise for a film. The Boulting Brothers’ THE FAMILY WAY with Hayley Mills and Hywel Bennett and Alan J. Pakula’s THE STERILE CUCKOO with Liza Minelli and Wendell Burton are two notable films that feature newlyweds with consummation problems. McEwan adapted disown screenplay for the film directed by theatre veteran Dominic Cooke.
ON CHESIL BEACH opens with the wedding night of a couple, Florence Ponting (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward Mayhew (Billy Boyle) in the summer of 1962. The audience learns Florence is a music undergraduate while Edward a History undergraduate at the same University. They fall in love. Through flashbacks, the backgrounds of the groom and bride are revealed, the former of a higher class while the latter has been described by Florence’s mother (Emily Watson) as a country bumpkin. Still the two are very much in love.
But they fail to consummate on their wedding night. They both eventually confess that it is their first times. Director Cooke plays the scene with dead seriousness while the scene is interrupted by flashbacks. When the drama finally settles back on the couple, Edward pre-ejaculates on Florence due to his excitement which her. Disgusted, Florence flees to the beach where a major confrontation occurs. They depart after Florence suggests that they could lead a life without sex, which she prefers likening the relationship to two homosexual men she knows of in Manchester. She claims that he could have sex with others and she not be jealous so long as they still love each other. Edward bolts off in disgust.
Director Cooke is a 4-time Olivier Prize winning director. His direction is meticulous, with a cinematic display of the atmosphere of the period. His camerawork is impressive with many a stunning shot of the couple, especially arguing as ON CHESIL BEACH often with both figures in the same frame.
Ronan is excellent in the role of the frigid bride, again reprising the role of a young lady coming-of-age while disrupting the lives of those around her (as in ATONEMENT and the recent LADY BIRD). Boyle is also quite the actor, rising in fame after DUNKIRK and the recent drama THE SEAGULL.
The only problem with Cooke’s film is its choppiness as it does not flow well from one segment to another. It takes a while before the audience realizes the direction Cooke is taking his film. The film’s last act, with the two, not getting on in age with prosthetics make-up should have been more moving had it transitioned more smoothly from its abrupt jump in years of the couple.
Still ON CHESIL BEACH is a handsomely crafted period love story, though never reaching the heights of the simpler Boulting Brothers’s film with the identical theme, THE FAMILY WAY, But both very entertaining romantic dramas.