During the scene in which Edward vents his frustration at being unable to work the zip on Florence's dress, the old man sat in front of me in the Liverpool Odeon leaned over to his wife and said, in a loud voice, "And I bet he can't get an hard on either!"
It was Philip Larkin, in his poem Annus Mirabilis, who said; "Sexual intercourse began. In nineteen sixty-three (which was rather late for me) - Between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles first LP" On Chesil Beach, based on the (much more satisfying) novella of the same name by Ian McEwan, is rather pointedly set in 1962; a year before sex began and therefore 'rather late' for newlyweds Edward (Billy Howle) and Florence (Saoirse Ronan) whose repression plays out across the film, from the fumbling horror of their wedding night to their relationship in flashback.
I read On Chesil Beach a few years ago. It was slight but I recall enjoying it. I sympathised with the notion of that almost lost generation of the 1950s, forced to endure the halfway house of the inhibited, button up post war years and the loose morals of the swinging sixties. The awkward, naive handling of love and sex that Florence and Edward experience was endemic of society as a whole. Unfortunately, in his cinematic directorial debut, Dominic Cooke doesn't really convey these sympathies and Edward and Florence just come across as incredibly wet individuals. Their individual, long smothered reasons for their frigidity (both are, of course, their respective families and upbringings; his experiences with a brain damaged mother, her suffering at the hands of a sexually abusive father) are clear though satisfyingly understated, but there isn't the same sense of, or sympathy for, the era that McEwan so skilfully addressed on the page, and the later sequences set in the 1970s and in 2007 feel equally false (not helped by the heavy 'aged' prosthetics foisted upon Ronan and Howle in the latter) and empty; I just felt acutely aware I was watching a movie rather than dropping into pivotal moments of the lives of these characters. Ultimately, I didn't find I believed in, or could feel enough for our central pairing and that's a terrible error for what is a deeply, instrinsically sympathetic situation. Basically, the story was lost in translation from novel to screen.
That said, Cooke can frame a shot and his ably assisted by his cinematographer Sean Bobbitt who creates a look that is typically Heritage movie, but possesses an chilly austerity that is wholly fitting for a film about stifled emotions and the inability to express or appreciate love with those you care about the most.
As for the elderly couple in front of me at the screening; their regular comments throughout the film infuriated me at first but then deeply amused me; it was like having my own private Gogglebox. The fact that it took the old man a full hour or so before he realised the characters in the flashbacks where the characters on their wedding night was hilariously incredible, but the fact that he didn't twig they were man and wife on their wedding night at all until the pivotal scene on the beach where Edward proclaims 'You're my wife!' just about trumped it.