On Chesil Beach recounts the courtship of two young people who have little affinity, nothing in common, and seem to like each other less, not more, as their idyll advances.
She is Saoirse Ronan, always a delight no matter the role, playing Florence, a musician from a well-to-do family. He is Billy Howle, who seems to be channeling Eddie Redmayne to play the insecure Edward. The narrative starts on the first day of their honeymoon, and then takes us via flashbacks through their entire relationship.
On the present day (well, in the sixties), in their honeymoon, their interactions are tense, awkward, stilted, as if they were performing what they thought proper husband and wife conversations sound like. I immediately wanted to know why these two people are already tiptoeing around each other on the their literal first day of marriage, but the thing is, as we went into the flashbacks I didn’t feel very much chemistry between them even during their alleged happy times. They seemed more excited to be free to have a relationship than who they had the relationship with. They like to say out loud how much they love each other, and despite the full commitment of an excellent classical music soundtrack it feels more hollow every time. This made the present-day narrative of their agonizing honeymoon not an ominous foreshadowing, but an inevitable consequence.
A major theme in the later half of the movie is sex; namely, how the crushing pressure to abstain from it before marriage is replaced in an instant by the crushing pressure to perform it after marriage. We see that Florence (Ronan) is forbidden from knowing anything about sex as a pure young lady, but then is expected to immediately be able to satisfy her husband after the wedding. I was more interested in this angle than in the rest of their ill-suited love story, and I felt the movie had more to say about this than what made it to the screen.
Unfortunately, after presenting this thoughtful topic, instead of delving into it the movie chooses to focus on what this means for him, and all but cuts her out of her own trauma. I think there is another movie to be made out of the edges of this one, and that’s the one I would have liked to see.