Dominic Cooke directs Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle and Anne-Marie Duff in this literary adaptation of the tragic Ian McEwan novella about a pair of 1960s newly weds, in love, but struggling to consummate their marriage.
We have reached the point in summer where a distributor has risked launching a big polished period drama in the hope of mopping up those leftover cinema goers bored of juvenile FX fests. Always featuring a powerhouse female lead and flaunting a Waterstones friendly source material legacy, these counter programming punts can often be treated rather sniffily by the critics. Last year’s My Cousin Rachel was a seductive and vital take on a modern classic… the reviewers shrugged that if it were truly any good it would have been held back to a winter weekend, where awards contention ghettoises mature, well educated fare. And you get the feeling On Chesil Beach has suffered from the same snootiness. It is a lush and powerful adaptation, playfully visualising McEwan’s wrought, intimate tale of two people unprepared for the emotions they evoke in each other. Ronan delivers another perfect lead turn, and is spray painted into a series of vibrant yet demure frocks. I swear I love these things as much for the costumes as the tear jerking. It is a smart, affecting drama told with a confident cinematic poetry. A small, seemingly inconsequential moment where a stereo system is listened to with backs turned from camera acts as a harbinger for all the silent destruction of the romance we are about to witness. There are many pieces, subtle and unsubtle, that reverberate and echo against each other in the narrative mosaic of these two straight edged kids’ cruel love story. It all adds together to be a whip smart, intelligently crafted and very beautiful weepie.