Joshua Jones review On Chesil Beach, showing in the PAC cinema until Thursday 28 June. Limited tickets remaining for the last few screenings.
On Chesil Beach is found at a turning point. Between the social austerity of post-war Britain and the burgeoning revolution of attitudes towards art, music and sex. The wild tragedy of the film is that its heroes wait at this point, not ready to abandon the old world, nor accept the new.
When the film opens and Edward describes his passion for rock’n’roll to Florence, he does exactly that: describes. In notes and chord progressions, in faded radio broadcasts. There, on Chesil beach, an ocean away from the reality of the new world, they do not live, but describe. Describe their fantasies, their obsessions, their past, whispers down the tunnel of history.
Their lives hold the morbid sway of having been already lived, left to the past of the ration-era, where, from the solitude of their conjugal room, they can excavate them; time capsules; unexploded bombs.
They do this with sweet falsetto pitch; Saoirse Ronan’s (Florence) tremulous notes resounding to the pale hotel walls, meekly fading into the timidity that the memories of her dreams engulf.
A world apart, the two converge in the seaside hotel as if meeting for the first time, throwing their entire relationship into that vertiginous doubt of having left some crucial thing behind. For Billy Howle (Edward) this is perhaps his mother, who is unable to separate reality from dream, art from life – for whom the film is a soft nightmare that neither she nor the naive couple are aware they are having until they are at once violently awakened.
On Chesil Beach surveys the span of a tumultuous century, and the casualties of a culture advancing head-first into its own decline. Charting a path from the early 1960’s to 2007, it deftly threads the tension wires of social convention so that we might watch them unravel.
But beyond this it is a film of obstinacy and resistance, of optimism and fantasy, of the impossibility and reality of hope.