On Chesil Beach (2017)

On Chesil Beach (2017)

While the 1960s were seen as a period of sexual revolution, it is easy to forget that - like today - not everyone follows the same path.

On Chesil Beach follow two virgins, Florence (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward (Billy Howle), as they try to consummate their marriage on their wedding night. Interspersed with flashbacks of how the couple met and their relationship developed, it becomes clear that Florence and Edward have very different reactions to the experience.

As a deep dive into sexuality, especially asexuality, On Chesil Beach is a fascinating piece of work. It is likely to be much more reflective of the 1960s than media that portrays an era of hippies, drugs and promiscuity. This remains a generation recovering from the effects of war and still very much under the influence of their parents' reservations.

Unfortunately, in some ways, the film is also held back by those same reservations. Florence is shown as both extremely innocent and na├»ve, but with a hunger and desire to achieve her professional goals, while Edward is more of the free-spirit and happy to appease his wife, but with occasional signs of a wicked temper. The film gets caught up with backstory, trying to hammer those points home, to the detriment of exploring the present day.

It is with great credit that the two leads are able to convey a sense of humanity. Saoirse Ronan, especially, is able to escape the ponderous nature of her character's personality to deliver a performance that is brutally honest and relatable, while Billy Howle is able to add enough empathy to avoid the obvious trap of being portrayed as the villain in what is otherwise a tragic story.

Despite occasionally bordering on tedium as a form of entertainment, On Chesil Beach is essential sexual education viewing.

3 stars