Another novel by Ian McEwan comes to the big screen in this week’s adaptation of On Chesil Beach. In the movie, Saoirse Ronan plays Florence Ponting, a young woman from an upper-class family in the 1960s who begins a relationship with Edward Mayhew (Billy Howle), a young man from a more working-class background. The two fall in love and get married.
The story is focused on the events leading up to, on and following their wedding night. Florence, for whatever reason, has no interest in consummating the marriage and is repulsed and panicked at the idea of doing so, something that frustrates and alienates Edward. How the two of them navigate this essential issue within the confines of societal norms at the time – including dark secrets that are never to be spoken of – creates the drama of the story.
Ronan and Howle are shown on the poster sitting or standing on a seaside beach, each looking in opposite directions, perhaps showing their diverging thoughts and paths. The dramatic nature of the landscape behind them as well as the period clothing tell the audience this is a big drama set sometime in the mid-20th century that’s focused on the two characters, who appear to be close yet heading for a confrontation that will be as turbulent as the sea.
Florence and Edward are newly-married – like, just earlier that day – as the trailer opens, both surprised it actually came out without problems. We then flashback to how they first met and began seeing each other, each attracted by elements of the other and talking about the little things they noticed. Florence is shown to be unsure about consummating the marriage, something we see she’s been struggling with for a while. That structure – cutting between the present day tension in the hotel room and scenes from their shared past – compliment each other and show what kind of story to expect.
That structure works really well and I hope it’s maintained in the film itself. By showing the issues or questions Florence has along with Edward’s attitudes both in the past and present we can see how expectations are set, how some people are encouraged to not ask questions but accept their roles and more. It’s an interesting story that seems very timely for 2018 despite being set 50-odd years ago.
Online and Social
There’s not a whole lot happening on the film’s single-page web presence, but what is there is alright. There’s a trailer, synopsis, cast list and other details. Also, a collection of both original content and links to features published elsewhere, which is a nice touch.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Nothing I’ve seen, but it’s likely there were some online ads at least that appeared.
Media and Publicity
One of the biggest publicity beats for the movie came in the form of a profile of McEwan, who on this film was actually brought on the set to answer questions from the director and cast as to character backgrounds and motivations, something that’s fairly unusual.
Ronan spoke about how this isn’t her first McEwan adaptation here, with McEwan also commenting on how much he enjoys the actress appearing a number of his stories. That was also the subject of this feature. There probably would have been more of a concerted push around Ronan but she just did this a few months ago for Lady Bird.
Another example of what seems to be a movie with a very timely story, even if it’s set in a different era. The conversation around sexuality and consent is more pitched than it ever has been, so a story about a woman who simply isn’t interested in sex – for whatever reason – seems relevant. And viewing that conversation through the filter of a time when “asexual” wasn’t a thing and a woman freely expressing her desires, or lack thereof, wasn’t common allows a different perspective on current climates.
The focus is, of course, on Ronan as she continues a years-long hot streak as one of the most in-demand actors around, always taking on challenging and interesting roles. As stated, her back-to-back publicity schedules seem to have resulted in a less concerted push this time around, but she’s still front-and-center. To compensate somewhat for that, McEwan was brought out more, which should help attract fans of the author along with fans of period dramas.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.