On Chesil Beach

2018-06-22 07:32


A young couple of drastically different backgrounds, in the summer of 1962, go through an idyllic courtship. Sex and the societal pressure that can accompany physical intimacy leads to an awkward and fateful wedding night.


Chesil Beach is a film so beautifully shot and acted that it almost makes up for the fact that the storyline is so heartbreakingly sad that I found it hard to watch. It’s a tough watch because it chronicles what led a young couple to their (ill-fated) wedding night and then follows the melancholic consequences of that fateful night. 

The movie’s twists and turns surprised me because at the start it seemed like it was going to be a love story like any other. I thought it was going to be centred around the trope that we all know so well in heteronormative media: Boy meets girl, they fall in love, they have sex, they get married (maybe) but this film is not that. It’s the opposite of a love story. Just for context: I had purposefully only seen the poster and not the trailer in the lead up to the screening.

The reason for all the obstacles along the way, for the young couple, is that the film is set in the summer of 1962. Before sexual liberation swept through England. So, there was barely more than a dry peck on the lips for the lovebirds before their wedding night, they never really got to unpack who they are in the bedroom. They never got to say what they wanted or didn’t want to happen and much less talk about anything south of their waistbands. 

I spent most of the film watching through my fingers at the cringy moments and the other half willing the characters to say what was on the tip of their tongues. It was like watching two perfectly-suited people who have matching halves of a puzzle struggle to find each other in the dark because they both refuse to turn the light on. 

But, then when I walked away from the screening feeling like the flick milked the sadness out of life just for the sake of it, I realised that they neither of the characters had been taught how by society how to talk about sex or even how to just be with another person and that’s what the film was all about. When I understood that fundamental thing it helped me understand their reasoning the character’s motivations for not finding their way to each other relatively easily in the way that lovers do now. That’s what I found the movie – which is based on a book -  to be about, in the end: A study on interpersonal relationships and how they fall apart because of external and internal factors. 

To me this movie is a slow burning, frustrating study on people, heart-breaking loss and sexuality. It crosses class boundaries and moves swiftly through time periods, giving viewers a glimpse of society as it was then and thereby highlighting the stark contrast between the early 1960s and everything that followed. 

The first half of the film is driven by Saoirse Ronan as the lead female protagonist Florence Ponting and I have to say that was my favourite part. Her acting is so nuanced that I found myself drawn to her every move. I really felt for her character and got swept up in her love for Billy Howle as the male lead Edward Mayhew.

I would say this arthouse flick is pretty much the opposite of a date night movie and might be better suited for a relaxed watch by someone on their own or a more established couple that has really sorted out their sex lives. 

Read more on:    saoirse ronan  |  movie review

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