God damn it, Thanos! You went to THE SEAGULL and warped reality with your bloody Infinity Gauntlet! Leave life alone, you mad titan!
Jokes aside, what do you think Ronan and Howle’s reactions were when they were going to play lovers again in another period piece? Is the UK so devoid of younger talent that they had no choice in the matter? Oh well, I’m always down for a movie with Ronan, so who gives?
The story looks like it’s about a pair of lovers who are about to get married, but seem to struggle with both of their comfort with sex.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have THE SEAGULL (2018) veterans, Saoirse Ronan (LADY BIRD , BROOKLYN , and the upcoming MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS ) and Billy Howle (DUNKIRK  and THE SENSE OF AN ENDING ). In support, we have Emily Watson (KINGSMAN 2  and EVEREST ) and Samuel West (DARKEST HOUR  and the upcoming GATECRASH ).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have Dominic Cooke, making his feature film debut. Congrats, sir. Penning the screenplay is the novelist of the book that this movie is based on, Ian McEwan, known for THE GOOD SON (1993). Composing the score is Dan Jones, known for LADY MACBETH (2017). The cinematographer is Sean Bobbitt, known for STRONGER (2017), QUEEN OF KATWE (2016), and upcoming films WIDOWS (2018) and THE RHYTHM SECTION (2019). Finally, the editor is Nick Fenton, known for a bunch of stuff I’ve never heard of, and the upcoming AMERICAN ANIMALS (2018).
Come to think about this movie, it seems like it’s going to be pretty dull. I mean, unless this trailer is just awful and gives nothing away, it kind of seems like it’s about a young woman complaining about sex. I don’t know, it looks pretty melodramatic and not all that interesting. Put Ronan in sexy lingerie all you want, that doesn’t automatically make a good or interesting movie. Still, with the talent in front of the camera, I can’t imagine hating it. We’ll see.
This is my honest opinion of: ON CHESIL BEACH
Set in England, circa 1962. Edward Mayhew (Billy Howle) and Florence Ponting (Saoirse Ronan) are a young and loving couple who have just gotten married. However, their night of private intimacy doesn’t go swimmingly, as they both discover just how nervous they are, as they haven’t had sex throughout their relationship. As they try to ease into the act, they begin to learn new aspects to each other’s personalities and reminisce about the time they shared.
Well, I don’t hate it. In fact, I kinda dig it. It’s no masterpiece, but not bad.
I think it’s important to note that this movie plays a game of pong with its flashbacks, often cutting between the past and present. Unless you’re used to this method that many TV shows abuse, thanks in no small part to LOST, this might get grating. While I’m used to flashbacks in my shows, I have to admit, this movie does it pretty frequently and not always for the most practical of reasons. I just wanted to give that PSA.
Also, how do you feel about cheesy romance movies? Because this is big fat heaping ball of cheese the size of a monster truck wheel, I shit you not. There’s scenes where they’re chasing each other in an open field while laughing. I won’t lie, the whimsy may be off the rails at times, but I was kind of delighted by it, as Ronan and Howle seem to have a genuine connection and do seem to be having fun in their roles.
But don’t be fooled, there are some legitimately great moments. One of my favorite scenes is when Edward brings Florence to his home to meet his mother… again. She never seems to remember her, but when the two ladies meet, Marjorie is on the ground, obsessively painting a picture with her breasts out of her dress. When she sees Florence, she stands still and the scene just gets really still and quiet as the two women just sort of look at each other (it’s better than I’m making it out to be). Slowly, Florence approaches Marjorie and helps her back into her dress, and Marjorie is totally compliant. Moments later, they start talking about art, getting excited about painting, it’s a very powerful and touching moment. Loved it.
A lot of the humor shines through as well. One scene that stands out is this awkward bit where Florence and Edward are trying to watch a movie in the cinemas, but they both look incredibly uncomfortable as they’re surrounded by young couples sucking face. The expressions on their faces is unbelievably funny.
However, the problems with the film need to be addressed, and there’s some glaring ones.
We’ll start with the smaller issues first. While the script is fine for the most part, there are some out of character moments are a little more disturbing than possibly intended. Early on, we’re introduced to Marjorie (Anne-Marie Duff), Edward’s mother. We soon learn that she’s brain damaged after suffering an injury and has problems remembering things. I guess the characters didn’t know what was wrong with her at the time, but when a doctor tells them that it’s brain damage, which seems pretty obvious after getting hit in the head by a train door from standing too close to a moving train, Edward makes a remark like, “Once I knew what was wrong, it was freeing, or liberating,” or something to that effect. That’s… a messed up thing to say, in my opinion. Similarly, the score is passable as well, but there are scenes where it sounds way too chipper during scenes that are supposed to be intense and dramatic.
There’s an entire subplot of Florence playing in a four-man band (she gives it a special name, but I forgot it), and has all these big plans. Play in this venue, play this song, and I was wondering as these scenes played out if it would really contribute to the story. Much to my dismay, they don’t. I mean, it comes back around at the end of the movie, which I’ll rage about, but I don’t think it was necessary. These scenes could have been cut from the movie entirely and it would have flowed just fine.
But now it’s time to address the one huge problem that I have with this movie, and that I don’t think it really knows what it’s trying to say. You can easily just say that I don’t understand, but hear me out.
Is the movie trying to convey a cautionary tale of the dangers of getting married too quickly without knowing enough about each other? That’s certainly supported by two facts. One, their relationship took off because of… *gag* love at first sight. @#$%ing blow me, movie! And two, that these two are spending half their time in this hotel room learning new things about each other. This is a clear indication that they spent their relationship just being in love and having fun rather than legitimately getting to know each other on an intimate level, hence the later problems associated with it. Hell, there’s even a scene where her sister Ruth (Bebe Cave) asks Florence what she loves about Edward, but instead of telling her about his personality, she’s rattling off facts. Like, he knows birds and trees. Jeez, this is only slightly better reasoning than in THE SWAN PRINCESS (1994) where the prince just up and says that he’s into the princess because she’s hot and nothing else. In any case, clearly there’s no true intimacy between Florence and Edward.
But the problem with this message is that the flashbacks stop supporting it after a time. At some point, we learn that Edward used to get into fights. Alright, joy-bunnies, learning that your husband has something of a short fuse and is prone to violence. Yeah, that’s a big thing to learn about the man you’re about to spend your life with and deserves to be addressed, which they do. But then why do we need another scene showing how Florence bonded with Edward’s mother? Or why do we need to see Edward and Florence’s dad play tennis? We, the audience, may learn something new about their relationship or some details, but as far as the characters and the logistics of the narrative are concerned, they’re rehashing memories that have nothing to do with their current issues. Not to mention that none of these scenes really help the audience understand why they’re both so nervous about having sex. I have a part two to this, but I’ll put that in the spoilers section, as I do end up giving a lot away about the ending.
Swinging back to the whole, “what is the movie trying to say” thing, is the movie trying to tackle the question to younger audiences, “What does sex mean to you?” That would make sense as well. Florence and Edward are indeed a young couple and are inexperienced in having sex individually. IE, they’re both virgins. Later on, we do learn that they have differing opinions of what sex means to them. Florence is repulsed by it after reading a sex manual, believing that “women are doorways that men can just walk through.” Alright, fine, growing up in a conservative household where sex wasn’t a topic discussed and getting bombarded with the biology and “technicals” of sex, I can see that scaring off anyone new to the experience. As for Edward, he’s ready to go. Okay, he’s not a pig about it, but he knows that he wants to make love to the woman he loves more than anything. He sees it as a natural part of a relationship.
You see what I’m seeing? Natural drama. Such differing points of view are certainly contributions to a relationship ending if some sort of compromise can’t be found, and that’s exactly what happens to their six hour marriage. It ends. Florence even offers to Edward to stay married, but he can go off and have sex with any woman he wants, so long as he’s happy. She won’t get jealous or anything, so long as he still legitimately loves her. Where any man would find religion in such a deal, Edward has a more noble point of view by getting insulted by her offer, as marriage means something to him. It’s a sacred vow that he took seriously and has no desires to be with another woman other than her. Not gonna lie, that took me off guard, but in a good way.
But again, here’s the problem, and probably not what the movie is supposed to be about, despite so much time dedicated to it: it takes forever to get to this point. The reality is, no matter what the movie is trying to say, this is a tried and true “boy meets girl” story. The only difference is that it ends with the two of them not getting back together, which I do admit, is not very common in stories like these.
Also, I won’t lie, think this big explosive fight next to the boat is Ronan’s worst performance in the entire movie. Her acting is so not in sync with Howle’s. While he’s screaming his frustrations and anger, she’s barely raising her voice a single decibel more than her normal tone. It feels so off. Was she directed to not meet Howle’s anger and to be more subdued, or is she physically incapable of shouting? I won’t pretend that Ronan has put in only great movies, but she’s never turned in a bad performance. Say what you want about HANNA, I thought she was awesome. THE HOST was utterly forgettable, but I don’t remember her being bad in it. My point is, it’s a depressing day in Disneyland when the more artsy period piece is where Ronan delivers a subpar performance rather than in the who-gives-a-shit young adult version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
My last major issue with the movie is the final ten or fifteen minutes. Well… let me get specific. If the movie’s epilogue was the bits taking place in 1975, then I’d say this was a fine way to end the movie. Both characters have moved on with their lives, Edward meets up with the daughter he never met, and finally admits to himself that Florence did indeed love him all those years ago. I would have been fine with that. If I were to change anything, I wish he didn’t know that little Chloe (Bronte Carmichael) was his daughter and that this was a subtle wink to the audience more than anything. Either way, this really was a stars-aligned moment as is. But the movie continues by doing the LA LA LAND ending, by fast-forwarding to the future, again, to 2007 where it’s the farewell concert of Florence’s four-man group in that venue she promised to play in where Edward upholds his promise to see her. The final shot of the movie is a flashback to their fight on the beach, with some dialog that we didn’t hear, and then roll credits. I honestly don’t know what the hell this was.
I don’t usually like to use this word to describe movies, but this was depressing. In ’75, he learns that he has a daughter and does nothing about it. He doesn’t attempt to track Florence down to meet his daughter, nothing. But thirty years later, he goes to her concert? What did this wrap up? To show us that they still love each other? Um… well, we know that he still loves her. I guess her tears show that she still loves him, despite being married to another man and never having gotten together so that her daughter could meet her biological father, so that’s a bit fucked up. But still, I don’t think this was a major part of the movie to begin with, so I can’t say that it was a strong ending. Fine for a deleted scene in the special features of the Blu-Ray, but not in the final product. Although I concede that the old-person make-up on the actors is damn good.
Overall, I don’t hate the movie, I don’t even dislike it, but it’s a pretty messy flick. I have no idea what it was trying to get across. Either idea of it being about not getting married too quickly or two young people figuring out what sex means to them would have been interesting to tackle, but it’s not worked in well with the bulk of the story that is little more than a standard boy meets girl. The acting is fine, for the most part, and there’s some good, even great scenes. I’d be lying if the cheesier scenes, as unfitting as they are to the story as a whole, are delightfully corny. Still, as a complete package, it’s not the best crafted. As a recommendation, I say viewer beware. Maybe save this for a rental or a streaming service. It’s not bad, but it feels very confused and ultimately not that interesting or even really worth a second viewing. I was fine for the one, but I don’t see myself revisiting this.
My honest rating for ON CHESIL BEACH: 3/5