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On Chesil Beach movie review: ‘Saoirse Ronan is exquisite; Billy Howle gives as good as he gets’

Make war, not love: Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle in On Chesil Beach

We’re reluctant to use the words ‘emotional’ and ‘roller coaster’. For obvious reasons. Indeed, On Chesil Beach is the lovely, sad, awkward, tender, gorgeous, tragic, melodramatic love story you didn’t know you’d been waiting for.

Which is to say that screenwriter Ian McEwan (adapting his own novella here) and first-time feature director Dominic Cooke’s handsome and heartbreaking period drama will give you all the feels, and then some. It’ll also leave you wanting a whole lot more. That isn’t quite as complimentary as it sounds.

The year is 1962. Saoirse Ronan (beguiling, as always) is Florence Ponting. The increasingly watchable Billy Howle is Edward Mayhew. She is a violinist in a string quartet; he is a history graduate with literary aspirations. She’s rich, he’s not. They kinda dig each other. In fact, the young lovers have just married and have headed for a nice little hotel on Chesil Beach in Dorset for their honeymoon.

Following an awkward dinner in their bedroom (don’t ask), things get, well, more awkward as Florence and Edward slowly make their way to the bed.  See, Ed and Flo have never been intimate before. He’s rather nervous and, uh, eager to go. She’s both apprehensive and terrified. A series of flashbacks — some darker than others — will fill in (most of) the blanks, as we learn all about how the newlyweds came to find each other.

Billy Howle and Saoirse Ronan as Edward and Florence in On Chesil Beach.

So, On Chesil Beach is, essentially, a story about the worst honeymoon ever. Honestly, lads, it’ll bruise the auld ticker. Again, Ronan is exquisite; Howle gives as good as he gets. Our wonderful leads’ chemistry and charisma is what saves McEwan and Cooke’s film from the odd structural problem. Yep, the framing is an issue here, and On Chesil Beach is a bit too stagey and creaky at times. Still, I wasn’t the better of it by the time the credits rolled. You’ve been warned.

Drama. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle. Director: Dominic Cooke. Cert: 15A

Also out this week: Solo movie review: These new Star Wars films feel like carefully and rather cynically constructed confections

Movie reviews: On Chesil Beach, The Breadwinner, Edie, Show DogsRead more: ‘We had to make it as awkward as possible’ – Saoirse Ronan on week-long sex scene shoot for On Chesil Beach

Billy Howle gets to grips with craic and chemistry in On Chesil Beach with Saoirse Ronan

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