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Film of the week Sexless on the beach

MARIA DUARTE sees a film on the wedding night from hell which is more voyeuristic than revelatory
On Chesil Beach (15)
Directed by Dominic Cooke

IAN McEWAN'S screenplay from his best-selling novel On Chesil Beach beautifully captures the fears and the fumblings of an inexperienced couple attempting sex for the first time in the prim and conservative early 1960s.

Set in the summer of 1962, a year before the advent of the sexual revolution and the “swinging sixties,” the film begins with a young virgin couple struggling to connect physically on their wedding night and, in the process, it sheds a damning light both on their silent miscommunication and their relationship.

The idyllic romance between Florence (a storming Saoirse Ronan) and Edward (Billy Howle) is played out in flashbacks as they are about to embark on the wedding night from hell at an old-fashioned hotel on Chesil Beach in Dorset.

Could it be that their diverse social upbringings and backgrounds are to blame for their misunderstandings? Both are well educated, having graduated with first class-degrees, but violinist Florence comes from a wealthy family whose mother, played with wonderful hauteur by Emily Watson, is a total snob.

Edward comes from a modest working family whose father is a master at a primary school and whose lives revolve around taking care of his once brilliant mother, superbly portrayed by Anne-Marie Duff, who suffered brain damage following a tragic accident.

First-time film director Dominic Cooke delivers an impressively solid and exquisite-looking feature, with stunning coastal landscapes and mesmerising performances from Ronan and Howle.

But the experience is voyeuristic — there's no emotional connection with the couple or what is being playing out. There is more to Florence's fear and apparent frigidity than meets the eye as a complex and troubled subtext suddenly infers in a fleeting moment as the drama unfolds. Blink and you'll have missed it.

It's a subtext too little and too late, but it is always worth watching Ronan, who just gets better and better.


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