There are few tales as tragic as young love gone wrong. Shakespeare perfected the telling of it and in On Chesil Beach, the melancholy reaches heart wrenching levels.
Florence Ponting (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward Mayhew (Billy Howle) are a young couple who fall in love in England in 1962.
They don’t have sex before marriage despite his urgent desire. Something in Florence’s manner suggests she’s reluctant.
On their wedding day they escape to a seaside hotel to begin their honeymoon and things take a life changing turn for the worse.
The film flits back and forth between the fateful day and the couple’s earlier, happier moments as they meet, fall in love and commence courting.
Both characters harbour deep issues connected to their parents. One has a mother who suffered a brain injury. The other a controlling father obsessed with social standing.
These are the deep issues we are allowed to see, but deeper still lie other unspoken concerns that inform the way they respond to the events on their wedding day.
Edward is quick to anger and suffer humiliation, while Florence does her best to settle things down and please others.
The film is beautifully shot by Sean Bobbitt (12 Years A Slave & The Place Beyond The Pines) with the most gorgeous vivid colours reflecting the impact they have on one another, brightening each others lives the way that young love can.
Both performances are excellent, with Ronan hinting at the torment below the surface of Florence and Edward allowing Edward to boil over to show the rage within.
Saoirse Ronan (last seen in Lady Bird and Brooklyn) is equipped with such an mesmerising presence, it is a credit to Howle that he is able to steal any attention away from her, and their many scenes together are superb.
I wasn’t expecting an ending to leave me sobbing, and it was the release I need after sharing the couples anguish for two hours across over 50 years. Not a light-hearted affair by any stretch, this is a meaty piece as befits the titles author Ian McEwan (Atonement).
“A Slow-Burn with Gripping Performances” 3 & 1/2 Stars.