IT’S ONE THING to take a beautiful novel and translate it into a film which drives a similar story line. It’s quite another to parade a film under the title of said novel, but twist its ending into something else entirely. Curiously, Ian McEwan who wrote the novel on which this film is based, also wrote the screenplay for On Chesil Beach. The film is deeply disappointing, and that’s not only because it is a clichéd, bland and pallid translation of a beautifully crafted book.
Girl, Florence Ponting (Saoirse Ronan), meets boy, Edward Mayhew (Billy Howle) and everything seems perfect. Yes, they come from different class parameters, but they’re educated, freshly graduated and full of great expectations for the world. And they’re also deeply in love. The class issue is a feature that touches the parents and their social miens and desires to keep up with the proverbial Joneses more than it does the couple.
Sex is the demon in the closet, as it were, and this unfolds as the story does.
Let’s face it: heteronorms are not everyone’s. And sometimes one may only realise one’s particular proclivities after certain sexual events or attempted events. The novel On Chesil Beach is a magnificently crafted and devastatingly subtle essay about social modesty and not quite fitting in. Read it as you may; the work is deeply immersed in the textures that make the characters three-dimensional. No aspersions are cast on anyone’s sexuality, but there are difficulties that point in directions that remain unstated.
The film version of this work applies heteronorms and cis-gender values to how the story pans out in a way that smashes a gender-sensitivity embraced wordlessly by the novel. It becomes a story about gratuitous hurt and ageing alone. It’s about being in the wrong place – even if it is the marriage bed – at the wrong time.
To compound all of those disappointments, it’s an extremely self-consciously precious film, with great moments of loaded silence that give way to a stagnant character development, and so many empty vistas in the cinematography that you yearn for something with a touch of spunk. Figuratively and literally. It’s a strange product because it tries so hard to emulate all of McEwan’s beautiful descriptions with moody presences and impenetrable stillnesses.
Music is threaded nimbly through the story, painting Flo as a promising young violinist and giving voice to a Mozart string quintet that carries the work. Colour also offers a delicate and symbolic gloss on the tale, notably the blue of Flo’s frocks that recall references to the Virgin Mary in traditional art. Arguably, it’s only these two threads that give the work the magic you yearn for, as the scene is cast.
- On Chesil Beach is directed by Dominic Cooke and features a cast headed by Claire Ashton, David Olawale Ayinde, Martin Bassindale, Christopher Bowen, Martin Bratanov, Anna Burgess, Mia Burgess, Andy Burse, Bronte Carmichael, Bebe Cave, Marianne Cecil, David Cradduck, Imogen Daines, Mark Donald, Anne-Marie Duff, Nigel Eaton, Caroline Garnell, Victoria Hamnett, Rasmus Hardiker, Billy Howle, Ty Hurley, Oliver Johnstone, Claudia Jolly, John Kinory, Philip Labey, Simon North, Jonjo O’Neill, Mike Ray, Saoirse Ronan, Bernardo Santos, Adrian Scarborough, Nadia Townsend, Emily Watson, Samuel West and Christian Wolf-La’Moy. Produced by Elizabeth Karlson and Stephen Woolley, it is written by Ian McEwan based on his eponymous novel, and features creative input by Dan Jones (music), Sean Bobbitt (cinematography), Nick Fenton (editing), Nina Gold (casting), Suzie Davies (production) and Keith Madden (costumes). Ster Kinekor, Cinema Nouveau release date: June 22 2018.