On Chesil Beach

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
On Chesil Beach Movie Poster Image
Powerful themes of sexuality in book-based romantic drama.
  • R
  • 2018
  • 110 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

No clear takeaways, but plenty to discuss. Characters give up quickly after a bad experience, blame each other, and refuse to try again. The main character comes to regret it. Should he have kept trying? There's a scene of discrimination: A man calls a young man "Jew boy."

Positive Role Models & Representations

No role models here, just complex people who make a mistake (by giving up) and come to regret it, too late.

Violence

A woman standing on a train platform is hit by the open door of a still-moving train (she's brain damaged as a result). Main character beats up a man for a discriminating remark; hitting, kicking, etc. A father yells at his daughter.

Sex

Explicit sexual situations. A couple attempts to have sex without really knowing what they're doing. Nudity includes scenes with naked breasts, a male bottom, and full-frontal female nudity. A woman removes her stockings, panties, etc., in bed. Lots of kissing. Some groping. Sex-related talk. Character reads details from a sex manual.

Language

Uses of "t-ts," "bitch," "bastard," "penis," and "bloody hell," plus "God" (as an exclamation).

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Main character gets drunk on a bottle of wine. Social drinking -- i.e., wine with dinner -- in several scenes. A main character drinks a beer. Smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that On Chesil Beach is a romantic drama based on a novel by Ian McEwan, the author of Atonement. Like that film, this one also stars Saoirse Ronan. It centers on a young couple in 1962 who are attempting to consummate their marriage without any experience with or knowledge of sex. Sex is, consequently, central to the movie; there are scenes with full-frontal female nudity (as well as other partial nudity) and uncomfortable discussions about sex. There are also a few violent sequences: A woman is hit by the door of a moving train (resulting in brain damage), there's a brief fight with punching and kicking, and a man yells angrily at his daughter. Language includes infrequent uses of "t-ts," "bastard," "bitch," and more. A main character gets drunk on a bottle of wine, and there are several instances of wine with dinner or social drinking, as well as smoking.

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What's the story?

In ON CHESIL BEACH, it's 1962 in England, and newlyweds Florence (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward (Billy Howle) are in their honeymoon hotel, overlooking the gravel-covered Chesil Beach. They flash back to their various times together: their first meeting, memorable conversations, and interactions with each other's families. They're very much in love, but there's an unspoken tension in the room around the consummation of the marriage. Florence has rebuffed all of Edward's pre-marriage advances, and they're both nervous and inexperienced. Their first attempt at sex goes badly, and Florence runs out the door in panic and terror, down to the beach. Edward follows; they argue. Florence makes a proposal, and Edward makes a choice -- but is it one he'll regret?

Is it any good?

The material -- playing with time, innocence, and sexuality -- is strong, and the actors are game, but the movie is too long and relies on too much talk; it misses a chance to visualize the drama. For On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan (Atonement) adapted his own 2007 novel, and the central idea is powerful. Without any knowledge of sexuality or access to such knowledge, how is a young couple supposed to learn anything about each other's bodies? Why is there so much pressure on marriage and things being perfect?

McEwan explores these themes with emotional resonance, but the movie never moves beyond serviceable. Aside from the use of the fluid flashbacks, director Dominic Cooke keeps the action mainly in rooms and conveyed mainly through dialogue. Twin scenes on the gravel-covered beach might have been cinematically powerful expressions, but instead they're broken up into functional cuts and softened with medium focus. The movie eventually starts feeling long; two epilogues, with the actors slathered in age makeup, don't help much. But there's still much to admire about On Chesil Beach, and it's worth a look -- and worth discussing.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how On Chesil Beach addresses sex. What do you think the movie is trying to say about it? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.

  • How are drinking and smoking portrayed? Are they glamorized? Are there consequences? Is the time period a factor?

  • How could communication have helped the couple in the movie?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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