I always have to state up front during these kinds of movies that when it comes to my least favorite genre, period piece dramas sit firmly at the top. This isn’t a period piece in the same stereotypical vein as SENSE AND SENSIBILITY or THE ENGLISH PATIENT, because this movie doesn’t feel as stuffy as the genre’s costumes and it’s not set in an unreachable period of human civilization. ON CHESIL BEACH takes place in 1962, a fond time for many still alive today, but not fond for Edward (Billy Howle) and Florence (Ronan).
The story begins with the two lovers just after their marriage. Despite the fact that they’re both virgins, they’re miles apart sexually. Edward is ready and willing, but much like any sexually uneducated lad, he knows little, if anything about the actual deed and how to make the deed remotely enjoyable for his partner. Florence, on the other hand, has a different problem that isn’t necessarily revealed until we’re past the midway point. The overall point of ON CHESIL BEACH is an attempt to embody what sex meant at this time, the pressures these two faced, and their immaturity to cope with each other’s hesitations and problems. The movie plays their struggles equally fair, but I’m more sympathetic to Florence’s reasons to avoid sex as opposed to Edward’s horny schoolboy routine.
ON CHESIL BEACH says quite a bit about intimacy, mainly that it’s not something that at the time, and still today, isn’t discussed openly and in an honest format. Sure, Edward and Florence are madly in love, but they aren’t talking about intimacy in a straightforward fashion. It’s more along the lines of awkward flirting followed by uncomfortable silences. The intimacy they attempt to initiate reveals some deep issues for both parties.
Some of those issues are revealed through flashbacks throughout the film, that are sometimes shoehorned in without any editing cues that the audience has suddenly time traveled by a few months. Because the flashbacks aren’t told in a linear fashion, less astute viewers will be confused and frustrated. The scenes do help paint a broader picture that would have been sorely lacking if we simply continued on with the honeymoon without context. However, I question the creative decision to begin the movie with the honeymoon instead of simply starting from the beginning and working up to the honeymoon as a whole in the climax.
ON CHESIL BEACH has something unique and beautiful to say, but does a poor job formulating a visual or storytelling exclamation point. There’s a moment during the climax, which I won’t spoil, that should be mortifying and heart wrenching, but I couldn’t help but imagine a theater of people laughing instead. The acting, as should be expected, is delightful and warm. If anything we might see our own previous insecurities, relationship or sexual, in each of these characters because the acting is so superb. A lot of that intentional good fortune is thrown away by the end where the movie seems to move past some of the flaws and wounds that time can’t heal.
Video: (1080p HD Widescreen 2:39:1) Visually, this movie captures a unique blandness that feels oddly beautiful and it comes through clearly on this Blu-ray.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) There are no problems with the audio.
Deleted Scenes (6:05): Seven scenes altogether that don’t add much at all.
The Story Behind ON CHESIL BEACH (9:09): I wish I had learned more about the book in this feature, but instead I got more of a by-the-numbers explanation by cast and crew.