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The Independent Critic

Saiorse Ronan, Billy Howle, Anne-Marie Duff, Adrian Scarborough, Emily Watson, Samuel West
Dominic Cooke
Ian McEwan
110 Mins.
Bleecker Street

 "On Chesil Beach" Opens in Indy on June 1st at Keystone Art 
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I was right around the age of 21 when I entered my only marriage, a seemingly idyllic effort to a lovely lass named Laura with a troubled background but a level of beauty that far surpassed anyone I had ever laid my eyes on. 

I was no major catch myself, a young man with spina bifida and a body that suggested I was more appropriate for snipe hunting than love-making. 

That said, it seemed that we were in love.

The problem was that neither of us really knew what love was at that point in our lives. By the time we'd convinced ourselves that a lifetime commitment was a brilliant choice? We'd packed up ouir bags and headed to Vegas. 

Despite our professed lifetime commitment, however, we learned rather quickly on that we weren't particularly compatible, sexually or otherwise, and what had begun with complete and utter sincerity quickly dissolved into anger, hurt, and mutual frustration. 

Now then, if you know anything about me then you already know that I wasn't in love and she wasn't in love and this wasn't a particularly brilliant choice. 

In fact, it was more like a choice that ripples across the fabric of one's life for years to follow. 

I share this story not because it closely resembles that of Florence Ponting (Saiorse Ronan) and Edward Mayhew (Billy Howle, Dunkirk). 

It doesn't. 

However, while I sat there watching veteran London stage director Dominic Cooke's On Chesil Beach, I couldn't help but think about Laura and society and pressure and expectation and all those things that make us travel down certain gravel roads that take us somewhere but nowhere we'd particularly like to be. 

Adapted by Ian McEwan from his own novel, On Chesil Beach wraps around the story of Florence and Edward, a dewy-eyed young couple in 1962 England who marry for all the right reasons and with all the right compatibilities yet who struggle to consummate that relationship despite nothing, it would seem, being particularly wrong. 

McEwan's screenplay expands upon the fractured narrative of his novel by deepening his characters here and their worlds, a marvelous way to complement Cooke's inherently actor and story friendly approach to directing the film. There are directors, I'd dare say, who couldn't possibly have made sense of On Chesil Beach or who would have turned it into a histrionic mess. 

Dominic Cooke was a perfect choice to direct. 

While one might enter the film assuming that the two are simply incompatible, On Chesil Beach's episodic, chronically scattershot flashbacks lay waste to such a theory. The two meet while at university, their compatibilities practically sealed after fateful first family meetings expected to go wildly awry yet somehow sending messages to the universe that these two were simply meant to be. 

It seems so very much so.

At nearly two hours in length, it's surprising that the rather gently placed On Chesil Beach never really feels slow. Anne-Marie Duff and Adrian Scarborough are a sympathetic delight as Edward's delight, especially Duff portraying a woman whose tragic accident led to more than a few personality quirks that are compassionately embraced by the ever loving Florence. Likewise, Florence seems to have little difficulty dismissing the concerns by her own mum (Emily Watson) and dad (Samuel West) about Edward's more humble roots. 

This is love, after all.

No, really, all the signs point toward a remarkably perfect union and a remarkably perfect marriage and a remarkably perfect future. 

Or maybe not.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic