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“On Chesil Beach” reviewed

Bad sex on the beach

Saoirse Ronan stars in a sensitive adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novella

Saoirse Ronan stars in a sensitive adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novella

June/July 2018

FILM


Love by the seaside
Sexual intercourse began in 1963, according to Philip Larkin. So it’s unfortunate that the honeymoon in On Chesil Beach takes place a year earlier. Directed by Dominic Cooke, a British theatre veteran, this sensitive adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novella stars Saoirse Ronan (above), the queen of British literary-fiction films, as Florence, a prim classical violinist from a highbrow Oxford family. Billy Howle, burning with star quality, co-stars as Edward, a budding historian and hearty rock’n’roll enthusiast from the sticks. A series of vibrant flashbacks establishes just how happy these clever, confident and ambitious graduates are together – most of the time. But in their dingy seaside hotel room in 1962, they are so awkward that the encounter turns into lifelong tragedy of youthful pride and squandered opportunities. Agonised viewers can take comfort in the assurance that, if nothing else, English cooking seems to have improved no end in the past half-century.
On release: May 18th (US & UK)

Heir raising
Horror films tend to go down better with audiences than with critics. But recently the likes of “The Babadook” and “Get Out” have been getting the kind of chin-stroking respect that was once reserved for Romanian art-house dramas. The latest example is Ari Aster’s dread-drenched writer-directorial debut, Hereditary. Its harrowing ghost story opens with an elderly woman’s funeral. At first the woman’s daughter (a ferocious Toni Collette) isn’t too upset, but she, her husband (Gabriel Byrne), and their two children are soon subjected to ordeals that will leave you trembling. As a serious drama about the ties that bind us to our families, “Heriditary” is remarkable. As a scary movie, it’s even better.
On release: June 8th (US), June 15th (UK)

Young, gifted and gorgeous
Paula (Laetitia Dosch, pictured) is 31 – or, as she prefers to claim, 29. For ten years, this millennial Jeune Femme has been regarded by everyone, herself included, as just a photographer’s girlfriend. So when she is booted out of her flat and her relationship, she doesn’t know who she is or where to go. But Paula is a human hurricane. As she roars around Paris, faking her way into any job and any friendship that will have her, her tumultuous energy is impossible to resist. The same goes for the film. Made by an almost entirely female crew, Léonor Serraille’s frantic comedy drama was one of the revelations of last year’s Cannes Festival, where it won the Caméra d’Or award for best first feature. Its squalid social realism earned it comparisons to Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, but it is as exhilarating as any Hollywood action movie.
On release: May 18th (UK)

Song of a preacher man
Paul Schrader has written and directed 18 films, but he is still best known for scripting Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver”, the classic study of an outsider who sees himself as “God’s lonely man”. That description fits the tortured protagonist of Schrader’s new film, First Reformed, even more snugly. Ethan Hawke plays the Reverent Toller, a former military chaplain who now preaches to a half-empty Dutch Colonial church in upstate New York. Knocked sideways by his son’s  death, Toller is pushed even closer to “Taxi Driver” territory by an eco-activist who believes the end is nigh, by his feelings for the activist’s pregnant wife (Amanda Seyfried), and by his church’s connections to a corrupt oil company. Schrader is being doubly brave here, first in letting his characters sit down and have long, involved debates about faith and ethics; and second, in letting Toller plan some shocking direct action once the debating is over.
On release: May 18th (US)

Nicholas Barber is a film critic for The Economist and BBC Culture online

TV
 

Kill off the king
Jesse Armstrong claims little kinship between his new series, Succession, and a script on the Murdoch family from almost a decade ago. Viewers must draw their own conclusions as various members of the Roy family sniff blood in the water of their news-and-movies business. Fractious finance bro Kendall (Jeremy Strong) wants to step in as CEO. Formidable Siobhan (Sarah Snook) is mulling a return. But the old tiger at the top, Logan Roy (Brian Cox), may not be going anywhere fast. This is jet-black stuff about the ultra-rich eating their young, with a script full of evil zingers. “Politics is what comes out of the asshole. Wouldn’t you rather be up front feeding the horse?” Good point.
On HBO (US), Sky Atlantic (UK), Jun 3rd

Heat and dust
On St Valentine’s Day 1900, four schoolgirls climbed a mysterious rock for a dare. Only two came back. The story is fictional, but what happens in Picnic at Hanging Rock has become an Australian urban myth ever since Joan Lindsay’s weird, dreamlike novel was published in 1967. Its second transition to screen is determined to separate itself from the soft-focus restraint of Peter Weir’s 1975 film. This free adaptation sees “Hanging Rock” as a hectic, heat-struck teen drama, with a saturated palette, electronic soundtrack and plenty of pouting and slo-mo. The effect seems to nod both to Sofia Coppola and to Dario Argento, and it’s anchored by a fabulously mad performance from Natalie Dormer (“Game of Thrones”) as the school’s cat-eyed and sinister headmistress.
On Amazon Prime, May 25th

Tim Martin writes about TV, games and technology for 1843