24-year-old Saoirse Ronan has certainly matured over the years. No matter how good or bad her movies are, her charming, glowing presence has moved audiences worldwide. A young English girl growing up in a wealthy family in Atonement, a badass heroine craving for revenge in Hanna, an Irish immigrant in Brooklyn, and a rebellious high school senior in Lady Bird, there is simply no other role Ronan can’t do. A young newlywed in On Chesil Beach is no exception.
Edward Mayhew (Billy Howle, Dunkirk) and Florence Ponting (Ronan), both in their 20s, just got married and they are very nervous about spending their first night together. On their honeymoon at a hotel on the English coast, they both confess they are virgins. They tell their love story through a series a flashbacks including their first meet-up in Oxford and introducing them to each other’s families. After they have sex for the first time, everything begins to go downhill.
First-time director Dominic Cooke and screenwriter Ian McEwan (adapted from his novella of the same name) do a good job expressing the anxieties of getting marriage at a young age. Kudos to the legendary Sean Bobbitt (12 Years a Slave, The Place Beyond the Pines, and the overlooked Byzantium) for giving a vintage feel in his cinematography. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold up how dramatically dull the movie is. The flashbacks prior to their honeymoon, while amusing, are almost inconsistent to the point of boredom.
Ronan and Howle do fine work as the couple as they unravel secrets about each other, which results in a disastrously awkward makeout session. Their argument on the pebble beach is easily the highlight. Their frustration feels and sounds so real as if the audience is watching an actual young couple going at it. Other than the fact they both love music and walks in the forest, and have no sexual experience, they certainly have the feeling they rushed into getting married.
On Chesil Beach has its moments, but it slowly begins to sink as the movie progresses. Not to mention the last act being completely redundant. These two actors are going to star in another film coming out nationwide soon called The Seagull, based on Anton Chekhov’s play. I doubt it will be any better.