“On Chesil Beach”

“ On Chesil Beach” is a not so unusual story about a six-hour marriage. If you ask friends if they know of any marriages that did not survive the honeymoon most can name two. Try it. What is unusual about the  novelist’s Ian McEwan’s screenplay is that it reorders how we think about love.

The film begins with calm seaside views and rather disjointed music. We think the pebble beach scene and the rock and roll tempo don’t match. Alas, neither do the expectations of the virginal Eddie and Flo.

In a series of flashbacks, memory pieces, we are introduced to two young Oxford students, their love at first-site encounter, and their family histories. The build-up is too slow, but the personalities of both Edward’s artist mother ( Anne-Marie Duff) and Florence’s  teacher/father  ( Samuel West ) add emotional nuances that are intriguing as we watch our protagonists circumvent and effectively deal with difficult parents and middle and upper-class divides.

In a time frame beginning with the early nineteen sixties and touching on 1975, thirteen years later, and then 2007, thirty-two years later, we get to surmise the onward progression of our characters’ lives and of their regrets.

Award-winning theatrical director Dominic Cooke directs his first feature film with “On Chesil Beach”. His entire cast, at the top of their game, show 1962 sexual repression and cultural conformity  in re-robing nakedness, in marking cricket lines, and in turning music pages one corner at a time. Rules shine in the piece: spontaneity be damned.

Help is offered. The minister tries to get Flo to voice her fears; Edward’s father tries to engage his distraught son. Actors Saoirse Rowan and Billy Howle are brilliant in showing how sexual fears of inadequacy impede physical intimacy. A sense of humor is not something that comes easily for neophytes in any new endeavor.

Innocence and inexperience are a given, but Flo’s problem-solving solution is most frustrating. How can she say she is no good at something she has never tried? How can she be so incurious and unventuresome when it comes to her own body and that of her chosen lover? I did not register any abuse or past trauma in McEwan’s screenplay, yet what else could it be? Could the rather clinical sex manual she references be that traumatizing?

For all her charms, Saoirse Rowen has a difficult time making us take her side. Her extreme sense of control even to the point of  strongly suggesting that she remove her own stockings, was more pathetic than funny. While Billy Howle had all my sympathy with his fumblings, an older man sitting behind us emoted, “ It’s about time!” in pure disgust and frustration. Other viewers will recall their own “first time”, and it is here that the film succeeds. “On Chesil Beach” succeeds in  not in showing fumbled touching, but in orchestrating truly touching scenes.

We see Howle and Saoirse sharing the events that made them feel like independent movers in the world, grown-ups. For Flo, it was buying her own single train ticket at thirteen; for Eddie, it was defending a Jewish friend from racist remarks. We hear the kind, but uppity, Flo tell how Eddie is not like anyone she has ever met. “He knows birds, always has a history book in his pocket and a pencil stub…and does not know a beignet from a croissant.”

If Florence’s mother thinks Ed is a “ bit of a country bumpkin”, Ed thinks Flo is a tad “ square” with her classical music. He is an “rock and roll” enthusiast. Their courtship does not seem stilted, yet there are dating episodes where everybody is making out at the movies, but them. They share goals, and there is a wonderful Mozart piece where octave changes are taught. In their physical relationship, Flo understands that Ed is always advancing, and she is always backing away. Yes, Florence looks mildly terrorized, but more priggish. Ed is still recoiling from two waiters laughing at him, but can still ask, “ What is it, darling?” when Flo hesitates with “ it sort of tickles”. Flo ends up running two miles down the beach.

Edward flaring temper leads to one of the most painful honeymoon arguments ever seen, thus our title, “On Chesil Beach”. Verbal stones are thrown. “It was unfair of you to run out like that!” She responds with how “ unpleasant and revolting” it all is. And a great octave leap has a humiliated man making a decision he will later come to rue.

The ending of this film seems improbable and a tad manipulative, yet it gets the emotion that it wants from the audience. Could patience have saved the day? Five kids with the cello player seems like he might have a technique down. We wish Ed had ten children in tow.

 

“Suffragette”

Shame on any woman who does not make time to see “Suffragette”. Shame on anyone who misses a chance to view and acknowledge the sacrifices of the 19th- century -British working women~those who led the way in including half of the world in the political process. Two women, Director Sarah Gavon and writer Abi Morgan present a composite of fictional and historical characters that inspire and cause us pause. The narrative begins with actual excuses used by those attempting to keep women away from the ballot box ,like ” women are well-represented by their husbands, fathers and brothers”.

As if there was no need to worry,we are next shown the beautiful cinematography of Edu Grau with its hazed light and muted hues. Laundresses begin the wheels turning. Much will be “cleaned up”.

We are introduced to the fictional Maud Watts played magnificently by Carey Mullingan. We follow her awakening as a twenty-four-year -old wife and mother. Maude’s history comprises being born in Mr. Taylor’s laundry,  being strapped to her mother’s back  while her mother worked, and working in the steam herself beginning  at age seven. Now, as a trusted and responsible forewoman, she is to deliver a parcel of laundry. She finds herself in the middle of a protest. Rocks fly from baby carriages and windows are smashed. Shouts of ” make the law respectable,then I will respect the law”  ring  in Maude’s ears. Her husband Sonny uses the words “high-horse” to corral  the ideas of these women soldiers, who wish to be “law makers not law breakers”.

Maude sees her friend Violet’s (Anne-Marie Duff) adolescent daughter molested by Mr. Taylor. She says nothing to the girl’s mother believing in the  suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst’s “deeds not words”. Maude later takes the girl and places her in the home of a suffragette sympathizer to work in safe employment.

Helena Bonham Carter is brilliant as the fictional doctor, who resorts to bomb-making and violent disruption.Being imprisoned earns a chest medal and  Dr. Edith has many. Unlike Sonny who eventually throws Maude out and arranges for their son to be adopted and  for a neighbor to fix his own missing meals, Edith’s husband is supportive until he locks her in a closet to protect her from herself !

Natalie Press plays the real woman who gives up her life for the cause. Emily W. Davison will be ” googled” by  all viewers of this film. Brendan Gleeson plays the villain  who has covert cameras installed to spy on the “instigators” and has the hunger strikers force fed.

King George V ‘s era  is well- costumed and the dates given at that film’s end actually caused a few  film-goers to gasp. Women could vote in  1913 Norway, 1917 Russia, 1918 Britain,1920 United States, 1949 China and India,1953 Mexico,1971 Switzerland, 2015 Saudi Arabia etc…