(director: Dominic Cooke; screenwriter: screenplay & novel by Ian McEwan; cinematographer: Sean Bobbitt; editor: Nick Fenting; music: Dan Jones; cast: Saoirse Ronan (Florence Ponting), Billy Howle (Edward Mayhew), Emily Watson (Violet Ponting), Ann-Marie Duff (Marjorie Mayhew), Adrian Scarborough (Lionel Mayhew), Bebe Cave (Ruth Ponting), Samuel West (Geoffrey Ponting), Jonjo O’Neill (Phil), Philip Labey (Bob); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley; Bleecker Street, BBC; 2017-UK)

“Underwhelming romantic drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Brit filmmaker, former theater director, Dominic Cooke (“The Courier”), in his feature film debut, helms this underwhelming romantic drama that might emotionally be on the mark but misses the mark in trying to convey intimacy. It’s based on the best selling 2007 novel by Ian McEwan, who writes the faulty screenplay for his own book. That the author’s screenplay can’t make it believable for the movie that the couple are too scared to have sex on their wedding night, seemed as if something is missing that should have been conveyed in the script.

It’s set in 1962, before the ‘sexual revolution’ came to either America or the UK. It tells of a pair of intellectually gifted virgins in their early 20s who are on the Dorset coast for their honeymoon on Chesil Beach, and are fumbling around in their hotel room having dinner and walking on the beach trying to relax before they return to their room to consummate the marriage.
The awkward couple, Edward Mayhew (Billy Howle) and Florence Ponting (Saoirse Ronan), are from opposite backgrounds. He’s a working-class country boy from Henley, who graduated college as a history major. His non-conformist mom (Ann-Marie Duff) is an elementary school teacher who is brain-damaged. His harried father (Adrian Scarborough) can’t deal with her crazy antics, but they stay married. While Florence is a violin virtuoso from a snobbish well-to-do conservative London family, whose mother (Emma Watson) thinks her boyfriend is a country bumpkin and ridicules her for protesting at demonstrations for social causes. Dad (Samuel West) is even more snooty.

Flashbacks comprise most of the film, and are used to catch us up on how they met and courted.

At the hotel, on their wedding night, they have nervous conversations over dinner. Edward is scared he will not be a good lover, while she’s unable to feel at ease about having sex. The film ends with them arguing on the beach and not having sex, possibly leading to a disastrous marriage.

The uptight couple are not wholly believable in their aversion to sex, but they are sympathetic characters in an affecting story that should not have turned out to be this dull.
What I immensely enjoyed was the picturesque scenery on the beach, which I got off on.

As for the story, I found it filled with absurd clichés and the dialogue stilted. Yet, by all indications, the couple seemed to not only like each other but seemed to be in love. Why they never even tried to get it on sexually baffled me.

 It played at the London Film Festival.

REVIEWED ON 3/10/2024  GRADE: C+