Film Review: ON CHESIL BEACH (UK 2018) ***

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On Chesil Beach Poster

Based on Ian McEwan’s novel. In 1962 England, a young couple find their idyllic romance colliding with issues of sexual freedom and societal pressure, leading to an awkward and fateful wedding night.


Dominic Cooke


Ian McEwan (screenplay), Ian McEwan (novel)


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.

Trailer: v=ZR6DWDfMDlM

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1997 Movie Review: THE BOXER, 1997


Movie Reviews

directed by: Jim Sheridan

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Emily Watson, Brian Cox, Nye Heron, Jer O’Leary
Review by Virginia De Witt

SYNOPSIS:On the eve of peace being declared in Northern Ireland, Danny Flynn is released from prison after serving 14 years for his youthful involvement with the IRA. Danny’s former girlfriend, Maggie, married his best friend, Tommy Doyle, and had a son, Liam. Tommy is now in prison himself and Maggie is watched vigilantly by the local community as she is now a prisoner’s wife and must be above reproach at all times. Danny sets out to start his life anew, and continue with his boxing career which had been interrupted by his prison term. He begins by initiating a training program for young boxers in the youth centre where Maggie also works. They reconnect even though it is dangerous for them to be seen together. At the same time, Danny begins to fight professionally again. Events spiral out of control as Maggie’s young son, Liam, is furious over his mother’s attachment to Danny. As well, Danny’s newfound commitment to the peace process sets him on a collision course with members of the local IRA.


This third collaboration between writer/director Jim Sheridan and Daniel Day-Lewis is the least well known. It was shot from an original screenplay co-written by Sheridan and Terry George. Their main object in telling the fictional story of Danny Flynn was to dramatize the culmination of the peace process and the consequences of it in the lives of ordinary people living in Belfast. In an interview on the DVD, Sheridan says the idea for the story came to him while he was living in New York in the ‘80s watching the news from Ireland, which was all bad. Then one night, a young Irish boxer, Barry McGuigan, was featured and said, “Leave the fighting to McGuigan.” Sheridan relates how he found it “… kind of innocent and naive a little bit, but great. Here was a guy in a violent profession saying stop fighting. That contradiction interested me.”

It’s that contradiction that is at the heart of the drama Sheridan and Geoge have crafted here. It is a thoughtful and intelligent take on the sometimes painful and dramatic progress of the peace process in Northern Ireland, which however, lacks some of the focus and tightness of storytelling that distinguished “My Left Foot” and “In The Name of the Father.” The tension that drives the story comes from the split on the republican side over whether to accept the terms being offered by the British to achieve peace, ie decommissioning weapons, etc. Danny (Daniel Day-Lewis), his friend and boxing mentor, Ike Weir (Ken Stott) and Maggie’s father (Brian Cox), an IRA chief, are all on the side of negotiating. They are each, in turn, confronted by Harry (Gerard McSorley), a break away IRA member, in violent episodes meant to sabotage the peace process. In the midst of this political drama, Sheridan works in a love story that is affecting and simply drawn.

Sheridan is ambitious here, attempting to combine what initially seem like too many elements for a small film. He does manage, however, to keep the political story, the love story and finally the boxing narrative of Danny’s attempted career comeback, balanced for most of the film. It is not until well into the last act when Sheridan cuts to Danny’s big fight in a London hotel that the film loses its momentum and bogs down. The London sequence is unnecessary dramatically as it doesn’t show us anything we haven’t already seen in Belfast regarding the peace process. It does, however, allow the filmmaker to make his point about violence by having Danny refuse to keep fighting a man who is clearly in distress. This scene is also an emotional nod to Barry McGuigan (who worked on the film as Daniel Day-Lewis’s trainer). McGuigan relates in an interview on the DVD how, when he was a professional boxer, he had fought a man in London, who had died later of head injuries. As admirable as all of this is, the point has already been made about Danny’s desire to use his boxing skills for peace in the earlier Belfast scenes. The result is that the build up to the final confrontation between Danny and Harry at the end of the film has been crucially interrupted.

Despite this lapse, overall the film works well. As usual Sheridan, and his actors, are wonderful at capturing the nuances of Irish life believably and dramatically. In the extended wedding scene that opens the film or in the depictions of the daily interactions at the Holy Family Boxing Club, the rhythms of language, the pleasures and pressures of family life and social obligations are all caught knowingly, and yet seem completely natural in their context.

The cast is crucial in this process. Daniel Day-Lewis is intense, but quiet, as Danny Flynn, displaying a barely acknowledged sadness just beneath his surface that is moving. This is a man who is aware of what he has lost by virtue of his earlier decisions and has now grown used to being alone. It is easy for us to understand how Danny now only wants to start his life again. As an important part of that new life, Emily Watson, as Maggie, displays a disarming simplicity. Maggie is quiet too, but it is a quiet strength. We come to know that in her world to talk too much is dangerous. Maggie learned long ago how to navigate her way through the byways of a life lived in proximity to violence. Watson lets us know subtly that this endless process, both personal and political, is now wearing her down. As well, she has a nice rapport with Daniel Day-Lewis in their scenes together. Ken Stott, as Danny’s trainer, is memorable as an older man who, like Danny, is desperately trying to begin again but knows the odds are against him.

The original music by Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer is eery, evocative of tribal chants, mixed with Celtic sounds. The cinematography by Chris Menges has a sometimes strangely blueish tint to it, but is clear and sharp and captures the dark world out of which these characters are struggling to emerge.

The ending of “The Boxer” lacks the joyous completion of “My Left Foot” or the triumphal vindication of “In The Name of the Father.” There is, instead, an air of quiet resolution about it, and the film overall. Nonetheless, “The Boxer” deserves its place alongside these other two excellent films and should be revisited