Monday 28 May 2018

Film: 'On Chesil Beach'

I'd been bracing myself to feel let down by this, having been mightily impressed with Ian McEwan's novella (which I've read twice) which had been shortlisted for the 2007 Booker prize. It turned out that I was not disappointed in the least, the screenplay written by the author himself and very successfully put on screen by Dominic Cooke, whose debut as feature film director this is.

The basic story is set in 1962 on the south English coast where two newly-weds, Saoirse Ronan ('Lady Bird', 'Brooklyn' ) and Billy Howle ('Dunkirk', 'The Sense of an Ending') arrive directly after their wedding to spend their honeymoon in a fairly standard hotel. Both completely inexperienced, the consummation of the relationship doesn't go as either of them would wish (to put it mildly), and subsequent recriminations abound.
In flashbacks we see their first meeting at a CND meeting in Oxford where they are both studying, their introductions to their respective parents - her upper-class, rather snooty ones (Samuel West, Emily Watson) and his brain-damaged mother (Anne Marie-Duff) and dutiful father (Adrien Scarborough).  
She is a violinist in a string quartet/quintet, he more interested in rock (Chuck Berry) but is open-minded enough to extend his own horizons to embrace her repertoire.

The atmosphere of the book is well captured, considering that much of the written word was a spelling out of what was in the minds of the young couple - their initially held promise of the expectation of a loving life together, before it all comes crashing down - with consequent bitter and hurtful words from both parties. 

There is a two-stage epilogue, in this film given a bit more weight than the mere six pages (out of 166 in my copy) in the book. I was starting to think that it was an error to have gone this far but I must admit it was largely redeemed by a highly emotional moment near the very end where I could feel my own tears welling up. Quite beautiful it was, and took my breath away.

It's a small-scale film but sentiment is writ large without the deep wallow, which for me would have been fatal. 
Although Saoirse Ronan has shown herself to be a fine actress, her face is one which, until she acts, looks to me like a blank parchment awaiting someone to write on it before she captures the personality, which she does most ably. In contrast, Billy Howle (whose name hadn't registered with me until now, and looking at times very like a young Michael York) has a face which reveals his hand of cards straight away, a characteristic which plays itself extremely well in a film like this.

If the subject matter grabs you, I'd unreservedly recommend this film - one of the few in which I think that having read the book ought to make little difference to your opinion of this visual interpretation, which has, of course, the blessing of the writer himself - and you can't ask for much more than that.................7.5.
(Imdb...........6.3 / Rotten Tomatoes..........6.4)


  1. I would go along with all of this Ray. It is funny where you mention tears welling up near the end. I wasn't effected at all in this way, nor did anything particularly take my breath away, whereas at the Guernsey Potato film I was balling my eyes out for the entire duration of the ending and you were unmoved! Funny old world 'aint it!

    1. Yes, it's surprising that our emotional 'triggers' are so different. I would have thought that we'd both come near to blubbing at that same point in this film so I'm surprised that it didn't affect you as much - or at all.
      I'm glad that you'd been positive overall in your own review as if you hadn't I'd have gone with gritted teeth, which would have been dispiriting.
      I hope you get to read the novella. After this I'm already minded to do it for a third time, this time with faces to fit!

  2. The subject matter does grab me, so I will definitely go.

    I wasn't aware of Ronan until I went to see "The Crucible" and to be honest, I went to see this because of a bearded Ben Whishaw. Ronan was in this production (wasn't aware of her when I went in) and came out extremely impressed. Later, I saw "Atonement" and loved it, although at times, difficult to watch. As you know,Ian McEwan is the author. Interesting that Ronan stars in another of his work.

    Now that I have brought up the name of Ben Whishaw, are you watching "A Very English Scandal"? If so, hoping that you will review it.

    1. I've read five McEwans, Paul, and he's quickly becoming one of my top contemporary writers.
      'Atonement', of course, both book and film, I have a very high opinion of.
      Btw: in the film, if you remember the heart-breaking scene on a beach with thousands of troops where horses were shot in the head, it was suppose to be Dunkirk - that scene was in fact filmed on a beach close to where I grew up, in north-east England.
      'Enduring Love' is another where I can strongly recommend both book and film.
      'Amsterdam' is my most recent of his which I've read (not filmed - as yet) and where I was staggeringly impressed.

      'The Crucible' is a play I've seen so many times live on stage that I really wouldn't care to see yet another production, though the cast of the one you saw is, I must say, intriguing.

      I am indeed watching 'Scandal', now just one of the three parts to go. I did find the second instalment a bit more laboured than the first, which was magnificent - second part featuring the shooting of a dog which I'd braced myself for, though it didn't make it much easier.
      I'll watch the final part next Monday.
      Those of us old enough to remember the actual events - the trial took place in the late 1970s - can still hardly believe it happened, and with such a high profile figure too. There were things that either I didn't know or had forgotten, such as Norman Scott (Whishaw's character) having been married and having children. I hadn't realised that he is still alive - and has expressed his disapproval at the way Whishaw points up the effeminacy. (Well, that's just too bad for him!)
      But the series belongs to Hugh Grant who once again comes completely into his own, and even uncannily gets to look facially like the man he portrays, Jeremy Thorpe, who even though he was eventually acquitted of conspiracy to murder (I still can't understand why) the whole nasty affair ruined his political life. And all the time until his death his wife stood up for him. The three-parter is worth seeing for Hugh Grant alone.
      No, I wasn't going to review it and still don't think I will - but I'll be most surprised if it doesn't crop up on one or more of other people's blogs, and I won't be backward in chipping in there with my thoughts.
      I think Grant will be right up there for awards when the season comes round. He'll have deserved it.

    2. I remember the actual events very clearly and discussing them daily with my mother over the phone as I was living away at the time. Morning news bulletins and later evening bulletins would differ with bits being cut later, clearly adjudged not to be revealed after all. I am not watching it because of my clear memory of it and I would not wish to identify any distortions of what really happened. Not saying that there are any, but I would be most disappointed if the truth is being not quite told. At least the truth as we were given it at the time.

  3. I'm watching it for rather different reasons to your NOT watching, Rachel. I not only want my memory refreshed but I'm curious about things which have come out in the 40 or so years since the trial which were nor revealed at the time or were simply not known.
    The programmes don't shy away from the farcical elements of the story, underlined by the light-hearted signature tune, yet it never also loses sight of the gravity of the case. Of course it hardly needs saying that facts must be being manipulated to a degree for dramatic effect, which would matter more if this was intended to be a reconstruction of events, and it manifestly is not that.
    I've said that Hugh Grant manages to have an uncanny facial resemblance to Jeremy Thorpe. What he can't do is emulate him physically. I recall Thorpe as being tall, almost lanky, and Grant isn't. But he gets the gestures spot-on.
    A number of interesting things are emerging, such as when Thorpe tells Peter Bessell (played by Alex Jennings) to find him someone who'll do the killing, very briefly the name of John Le Mesurier comes up as someone who might have a contact. (I'm assuming this happened, otherwise why would they have put it in?)
    I hope you might get round to watching it at some future date on catch-up - your decision of course. It's rare when I watch a TV-made 'serial' but I'm having no regrets about this one.

    1. I never watch these TV-made things based on something that really happened during my life time. It is just something that I cannot stomach. They invariably bring flooding back all sorts of memories of other things that were happening in my life or in the world and I can't really handle it.

    2. Yes, I can appreciate that. It's similar to the bitter-sweet feeling I get when hearing a record I used to disco-dance to in the 80s when I was affluent and relatively carefree. I like to close my eyes and go back there, even though it's a bit painful nostalgically. In your case it sounds like the more unpleasant part of your memories of certain eras in your life overpowers the 'sweeter' aspects, so I do understand.

  4. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on 'Scandal'. I watched a review of it by a British couple on YouTube and they pretty much say as you do that the series belongs to Hugh Grant. They also singled out Alex Jennings and I can understand that since he was so outstanding as The Duke Of Windsor In "The Crown."

    I am eagerly awaiting 'Scandal's" arrival in the US. Unfortunately, BBC-America is not showing it here so I will have to wait until June 29 to see it on Amazon Prime. Looking forward to Season 3 of "The Crown" and also "Patrick Melrose."

    1. Not seen 'The Crown' - or 'Patrick Melrose' for that matter. In fact never heard of the latter.
      It's got to be something really special that'll make me want to follow something for more than one episode on TV, and 'Scandal' has so many tick points, which it's living up to.
      When I first heard of it I thought it might have been a feature film for cinema release, but I think only the older generations will remember anything of the events in the news so a film in the format could well have bombed.
      When you do catch up on it I'd be most curious as to your thoughts. You can write them under any of my then current blogs you see. Nobody else whom I'm following is interested enough to say anything about it - apart from Rachel who, for her own reasons, is avoiding it. Just about all the press here are giving the series much praise.

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