Adapted by Ian McEwan from his bestselling novel, On Chesil Beach is a drama about the courtship and romance of a young couple in the early 1960's who ultimately discover, during their short-lived marriage, that they are unsuitable for each other in the most unexpected of ways.
The brilliant Saoirse Ronan plays Florence Ponting, a music graduate from a privileged background, opposite Billy Howle as the earnest but quick-tempered Edward Mayhew. They meet and fall in love despite the differences in their temperaments and upbringing, never quite looking deeply enough to find out the real reasons for each other's motivations and behaviours.
This oversight from the newlyweds rears its awkward, ugly head the afternoon of their wedding day as they are sharing supper and what eventually turns out to be an uncomfortable and fumbling attempt at physical intimacy. Neither character really displays any real tenderness or delight in their partner's nearness and vulnerability, despite their earlier declarations of affection, and the audience is left aghast and unable to look away. There are some interesting historical references to the scant information available about sex generally to people back then, which elicits some sympathy for the young couple, but it does not fully explain what occurs that fateful afternoon.
We do get a glimpse of what possibly motivates Florence's revulsion with physical intimacy, however, what empathy we may feel for her situation is moderated to some degree by her well meaning but dismissive attempt to fix the problem. Understandably, Edward is left humiliated and confused although his tactless, over compensating attempts to prove himself coupled with his occasional outbursts of temper don't induce much sympathy from the audience for his predicament.
As the final scenes play out, we are left contemplating what might have been if Edward had simply been more patient and less demanding and Florence willing to share her experiences honestly with the person that she loved.
On Chesil Beach is now showing at selected cinemas near you.