On Chesil Beach 3.0 stars

On Chesil Beach movie poster

A star turn in Greta Gerwig’s Ladybird made it clear that Saoirse Ronan could play contemporary as well as period, so her performance here as a blushing English bride approaching her wedding bower in a seaside hotel circa 1962 shouldn’t pose any danger of pigeonholing. Still, she’s awfully good at evoking bygone sensibilities and sounding antique emotional registers. Ronan and a suitably nervous Billy Howle spend the first hour or so working their way toward physical intimacy by concentrating on the emotional kind, reminiscing about the gradual intertwining of their lives, recalling moments and episodes that are simultaneously surprising and appropriate. But Dominic Cooke is directing an Ian McEwan adaptation here (with McEwan also penning the script), and so the blunt intrusion of reality into the pair’s honeymoon idyll should come as no surprise. (That it does anyway is a testament to the skill of everyone involved.) What had been impossibly sweet becomes simply impossible, and old-fashioned mores prove unsuited to the task of navigating the emotional morass. Opinions may vary as to the ultimate treatment of promises made, broken, and kept, but there is little room for debate about the heartbreaking elegance of the final shot. 2017.

Matthew Lickona

This movie is not currently in theaters.

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