As a scholar of the rom-com genre, there’s nothing I love more than a whimsical courtship. But as a cynical human, I always wish every movie would give us an epilogue: “Sadly, it didn’t work out. He’s kind of a dick, she’s kind of passive-aggressive, and they’re both way too young.” While not a rom-com, On Chesil Beach consists almost entirely of that epilogue.
On Chesil Beach takes us back to 1962 England, before the internet taught virgins how sex worked, and when a young woman saying “no” was just a stuck-up prude who probably doesn’t have any emotional baggage so why bother asking her what’s wrong or how to help.
Based on the novel by Ian McEwan, the movie follows Florence (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward (Billy Howle) as they fall in sweet, lightly star-crossed love, and then when it all goes south. She’s a wealthy city girl, and he’s a country boy with... less money, I guess?
But the tensions really arise when they get married and get naked and get super duper awkward. (Imagine waiting to get married to have sex?! Things were different before! Hey, you two! You could’ve figured all this out way earlier!)
The film’s poster features these doe-eyed, high-cheekboned, beautiful white people staring into the middle distance together on the beach, which makes it look like either top-shelf Nicholas Sparks or bottom-shelf Keira Knightley.
But On Chesil Beach is neither of those things: Instead, it’s its own type of doomed romance, with twists and intrigue and a quick pace that manages to still leave room for humanity. There were highs, lows, and parts I sincerely hated—just like any real, human, non-rom-com relationship.