On Chesil Beach

On Chesil Beach

In Theatres: 
May 25, 2018
Running Time: 
110 minutes

Sex in film is portrayed as a passionate experience, for the most part, and is oftentimes either perfect if the two people are in love or awkwardly comical depending on the experience level of the couple involved. Rarely does it capture the tension and uneasiness that comes with it in a manner that doesn’t play for laughs. Based on Ian McEwan’s own novel by the same name, On Chesil Beach explores the fears associated with having sex for the first time, and its placement in the bigger picture of love.


It’s the summer of 1962 and Florence Ponting (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward Mayhew (Billy Howle) have just been married and are eagerly anticipating their honeymoon with both excitement and hesitation. As they go through the motions of checking into the hotel on the beach and having a lovely dinner together, one thing is constantly in the back of their mind; sex. Neither of them have had sex before and despite their love for each other they’re still desperately terrified of what it entails and the deeply personal emotions it may bring into the light.


On Chesil Beach starts off as a heartwarming tale about romance with Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle starring as this charming couple who clearly love one another. The film opens with the first day of their honeymoon, with the origins of their relationship told through flashbacks as they do everything they can to delay the inevitable. These flashbacks show a couple who fell in love at first sight. They’re always at ease when they’re with one another, even in their displays of affection. That contrasts with the present as you can clearly see that there is tension between the two as they tiptoe around the big s-word.


Everyone knows that you have sex on your wedding night. That’s just how society works they believe, and anything outside of societal expectations is considered taboo. On Chesil Beach is more than just a film about sex; it’s a story about what can happen when people put more pressure on themselves to do what society of expects of them rather than what their partner does. The story takes a different direction towards the third act that drastically changes the tone of the film. I won’t go deep into spoilers, but it definitely changes how everything else is viewed moving forward and offers an even bigger reasoning behind their hesitation towards sex than just the usual jitters.


Like sex, On Chesil Beach is complex and offers something that’s more than what you see on the surface. It’s a wonderful effort by first-time feature film director Dominic Cooke, who brings his expertise of the theatre over to the silver screen. It brings you into the world of these two characters, and doesn’t shy away from showing both the good and bad in their lives.

Matt Rodriguez
Review by Matt Rodriguez
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