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On Chesil Beach (dir. Cooke)

Image: Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle in On Chesil Beach [Source: IMDB]

 ★★★★☆

Based on Ian McEwan’s novel. A young couple in 1962 England finds themselves succumbed to societal pressure and sexual repression. Leading to their fateful wedding night drowned in awkward tension, their idyllic romance hangs in the balance.

Director: Dominic Cooke. Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle [15]

The relationship in On Chesil Beach stings with a sense of awkward and troubled intimacy. The story of these seemingly idyllic lovers in their repressed and pressured relationship starts at the beginnings of their wedding night. Contained in the room with a biting atmosphere of order and precision met with awkward mishandling, Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle triumph in their performances of two lovers spilling all their feelings out to each other behind the small talk but saying nothing, all at once. It’s dazzling to watch, lines poignantly cling in the air and carry a tension until defused by an equally clinging response. The delivery of dialogue reminds of classic Woody Allen, except less stylistic in its content and more repressed British in its tone.

With each character carrying a boatload of baggage, unpacked in commonplace flashbacks that while awkwardly intersected, are managed well. Superbly adding to the previous exchange before connecting to the next. This highlights the difficulty of its story, while there is certainly a lot at the surface, plenty of moments echo the vast depth beneath. However, On Chesil Beach fails to convey all its subtle details in convincing or captivating ways. Never going into the main course of the issues presented and instead sticking with its starter before jumping to dessert. Much of the middle act of the film loses all of its steady pacing and interesting exchanges, it becomes sluggish and lost. It’s certainly an admirable effort but Cooke seemingly does little to adapt the novels middle passages to the film medium and keep an audience engaged with the trudging plotting.

Much of the juicy content of this story happens at its beginning and then is saved for its stirring finish. It’s a segment I could have easily imagined taking the space of its dense middle act and stretching out to its closing sentiment. But down to its condensing, some clichéd cinematic techniques are used to spell out the rest of the story and it doesn’t feel rewarding, in fact, it is lacking. However, On Chesil Beach is a stinging look into a romance unlike any other in most of the cinema. It touches on issues with a reverent, open and forethinking manner, revealing subtle story and quality characters. While it doesn’t quite get into the meaty exploration of these characters, the story or the depths beneath. The quality of filmmaking with its control of colours, framing and music. Sets On Chesil Beach as a quietly tremendous feature, finishing off in a gooey but still emotionally touching triumphant moment.

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