This week, two seaside tales tell sobering stories of society and the gaps and gulfs within it: On the south coast of England in the county of Dorset lies an 18-mile-long shingle beach that reaches out northwest from Portland to West Bay.
It stretches out away from the mainland and separates it nearly entirely from the Jurassic Coast via a saltwater lagoon called Fleet. It’s a place where Atlantic winds buffet the stones and cliffs, and the site of multiple shipwrecks that Thomas Hardy once called ‘Dead Man’s Bay’ - where elements clash and the weather whips the coast in angry fits and starts. A place of breath-taking natural beauty with UNESCO world heritage status that contains approximately 180 million pebbles - this beach caused a stir in back in 2007 and its name is Chesil.
At just 166 pages and containing less that forty thousand words, Ian McEwan’s novella On Chesil Beach was ripe for a cinema adaption after making waves with critics and receiving a Booker Prize nomination despite not officially being a novel. McEwan’s writing has been adapted many times for the screen, possibly most notably in Atonement (also released in 2007) starring James McAvoy, Keira Knightley and Saoirse Ronan, aged just 12 years old and who returns in this adaptation - now aged 24 and a Hollywood A-lister after her Oscar-nominated performance as Greta Gerwig’s Ladybird, earlier this year. Ronan is Florence, a music graduate from a buttoned up middle-class family who meets Edward, also an Oxford graduate but from a more working-class background (who ‘doesn’t know the difference between a croissant and a baguette’) – and it’s love at first sight. Before long the couple are married and honeymooning at Chesil beach. Flashbacks follow the pair through their idyllic courtship, as the film explores sex and the societal pressure that can accompany physical intimacy, leading to an awkward and fateful wedding night. It’s directed by Dominic Cooke, previous director of the Royal Court theatre and associate director at the National who made his TV directorial debut with The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 1 and 2, and also Richard III. Adding to the theatrical pedigree as Florence’s parents are Emily Watson and Sam West - who recently came directly to Sheffield audiences as Brutus in Robert Hastie’s wonderful production of Julius Caesar at the Crucible. It’s a story from a different time (1962 to be exact) where hidden secrets and uncommunicable terrors combine to uniquely
English effect in an isolating echo of the devastatingly beautiful scenery. Also, out this week is Lucrecia Martel’s F-Rated 4th feature Zama. A bold and brilliant attack on colonialism (and another utterly beautifully photographed film) this is the story of Zama, an officer of the Spanish Crown born in South America who awaits a letter from the King that will grant him a transfer out of his sleepy town. Stuck in a delicate limbo, Zama must obediently dedicate himself to every task asked of him by the Governors that come and go as he patiently waits. As he begins to lose hope, recognising he is being side-lined in favour of the Spanish-born elite, he tags on to a group of soldiers on the hunt for a dangerous bandit. Zama is intoxicating drama that’s masterfully funny, dreamlike and disarmingly bizarre, with remarkable insight into imperialism and class dynamics.