For most of ‘On Chesil Beach,’ I was underwhelmed. I guess my mind is too much into what I have known – a child of the 80s – that I thought a lot of what is in the movie ‘much ado about nothing.’ Do people really break up over sex incompatibility (or lack of trying?) Do people really have no premarital sex? But this is 1962, and I admit I don’t know much about 1962. But then towards the end of the movie, a certain sentimentality was tagged in the movie, and hopeful romantic me just lapped that up. Curiously, here I am days after seeing the film and I am still thinking about the characters.
That’s where the irony lies. A lot of write ups about the movie say that that tacked-on sentimental ending does a great disservice to Ian McEewan’s brilliant book. But can we really say that, knowing McEwan was also involved int he screenplay? I hear that a lot of what is touching in the book rests on the ambiguity on the ending – something that is ‘answered’ on the film version. Of course this would just implore me to just read the damn thing, and curse myself for going by life this far without doing so.
Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle are perfectly cast as this couple. Ronan is truly a great thinking actress – we see her give us surprises on a character we thought we understood. And where did Howle come from? He expresses anger and confusion and charm all in one gaze, matching Ronan’s complexity.
The film makes us wonder about decisions we make, and maybe that’s why ultimately, it made me think about all the “what might have beens” in my life. In my old age, there have been a lot of those, and though I am a lot better now with them, something triggers sometimes. ‘On Chesil Beach’ did that, and here I am wondering is that is a good or bad thing.