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On Chesil Beach (2017)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/7/2018

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/3/2018

If you've ever been in a romantic relationship, then you know that they take a lot of work. Couples must be able to communicate, talking about their desires and needs. If they can't or won't, things aren't going to hold together for long. Now, imagine if you lived in a time when couples didn't discuss such things, because it was considered indelicate or simply taboo. No matter how much time they spent together could they really know one another? That's the question at the center of On Chesil Beach, a film which takes an unflinching look at awkwardness.

The year is 1962 and Florence (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward (Billy Howle) are on the first day of their honeymoon. Following a walk on the beach, they return to their suite for an early dinner. There is a sense of cumbersome anticipation in the air, as the newlyweds contemplate consummating the marriage. As the stalling and fumbling begins, we see flashbacks to how the relationship began and grew. The two had a chance meeting and began to see one another, despite the fact that they came from different worlds. Florence's family was rather well-to-do (and snobby), while Edward came from a tense home, due to his mother's medical issues. They also had dissimilar interests -- Florence was a classical musician, while Edward wanted to be a historian. Still, they became inseparable, and became well-known to one another's families. Having spent so much time together, why was their wedding night such a challenge?

On Chesil Beach is based on a novel by Ian McEwan, who also wrote Atonement, so this is someone who is acquainted with how the stiff-upper-lip attitudes of Brits can effect their lives. (He also wrote the screenplay for 1993's The Good Son, but that doesn't really apply here.) This sort of buttoned-up demeanor is at the center of On Chesil Beach. In 1962, couples knew that sex was supposed to occur on the wedding night, but it wasn't something that was discussed. And pre-marital sex certainly wasn't something that respectable individuals explored. Therefore, that first physical encounter was certainly going to be approached with some trepidation. But, On Chesil Beach takes this idea to the extreme and gives us each cringe-worthy detail.

As noted above, the honeymoon is intercut with scenes from the past, essaying how Florence and Edward became a couple. This part of the film is charming, as we watch the pair learn about one another, eventually sharing their hopes and dreams. Things are especially touching when we see Florence gets to know Edward's mother, something when endures her to his entire family. This is also where On Chesil Beach gets a little tricky. In order to completely buy the premise of the film, one must truly understand how society viewed sex in the early 60s. We see a scene where Florence reads a book about sex, demonstrating that no one had ever talked to her about it. However, we must remember that "good" boys and girls would have withheld their lust until the wedding night. So, for On Chesil Beach to work, we have to believe that a couple who have grown to truly love each other, are going to have issues when it comes to sex. The crux of this slow, poised British film is that no matter how compatible a couple is, sex is an integral part of the relationship.

The importance of physical intimacy in a marriage is indisputable, but the movie really falls apart in the third act. When the plot-twist is revealed, it sort of comes out of nowhere, and parts of it are way too subtle. (I guarantee that some viewers will blink and miss the explanation.) Following this abrupt turn, a large chunk of the finale is an incredibly sad coda. The ending is not only emotionally devastating, but it will anger many members of the audience. The whole things speaks to the impetuous nature of youth and how even the most complete relationship can still use work. So, On Chesil Beach does a good job of telling its story, but perhaps it does it too well. There are some good points being made here, but the actions of the characters become borderline far-fetched in the third act and it makes the whole thing hard to swallow. As for the overall film itself, it is extremely well-made, and the acting is top-notch. And, there's no doubt that McEwan's novel (and the fact that McEwan handling the screenwriting duties) drew the producers to this project, but an ending which may have worked on paper doesn't fulfill the promise on the big screen.

On Chesil Beach was another example of how British beaches just make me sad on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, most notably the color of Florence's dress, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is excellent, as we can make out the textures on objects, and the depth works quite well. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a drama, we don't get a wealth of dynamic audio effects here. However, there are some key moments. The scenes on the beach deliver noticeable surround effects from the waves. There are also some crowd scenes which bring us stereo effects which work well. The score contains bass notes which bring the subwoofer into the mix.

The On Chesil Beach Blu-ray Disc is short on extra features. The Disc contains seven DELETED SCENES which runs about six minutes. These are all brief and don't introduce any new characters or subplots. "The Story Behind On Chesil Beach" (9 minutes) has the actors, filmmakers, and Author Ian McEwan talking about the characters and themes of the film.

Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long