Books to films: On Chesil Beach

Fiona at Brompton Library compares the book, On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan with the recent film adaption –

The book 

I really enjoyed this novel.  Set in 1962, Edward has just married Florence and they are spending their honeymoon at a hotel beside Chesil Beach.  This honeymoon scene is interwoven with the story of how they met and of Edward’s family life.  The novel also looks at Edwards life as he gets older, moves on, and looks back on that marriage.

It’s a short novel where more is happening under the surface than is being said.  I found the book very moving and enjoyed the ambiguities of both characters.  Edward is love-struck, inexperienced and bumbling but he also has a violent temper when things don’t do his way.  Florence is shy and sweet, delighting everyone she meets but she is also steely and cold, finding Edward repulsive at times.  These subtle and shifting contrasts are what makes the book really intriguing.  The truth of their feelings and their relationship is always subtly shifting.

The scenes that take place on Chesil Beach are the most powerful.  McEwan creates a poetic melancholy around this turning point in two young people’s lives with his spare and atmospheric writing.

The film 

*Spoiler alert – I didn’t really like the film, so read after watching* 

As I was reading the book, I found out that it was being adapted into a film.  I found it hard to image it is a film.  I think it may have been better as a play with its limited scenes and characters and its poetic and dramatic atmospheres, where the action is taking place under the surface of the characters rather than in their external worlds.

I have to say that I don’t think the adaptation worked very well as the subtlety of the writing was lost and the scenes on the beach, which were so vivid in the book as they took place as it was getting dark, just didn’t really work on film.  One of the very powerful moments in the book was when Edward’s mother has an accident that changes her forever, this was also lost in the film.  The changed ending was very sentimental and not well executed.  It got great reviews though, so don’t let me put you off!

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