Saoirse Ronan didn’t want to make On Chesil Beach an abuse story

In the film adaptation of On Chesil Beach, Saoirse Ronan plays a character who is terrified of consummating her marriage to her new husband Edward (Billy Howle) and the film examines what that means for their disastrous wedding night.

*SPOILERS* 

In the film, there are tiny flashback scenes alluding to the fact that Florence may have been abused by her father when she was a child. It is the smallest of hints, a little suggestion, leaving many audience members wondering if we’d taken away the right message from those scenes.

Saoirse, author/screenwriter Ian McEwan and director Dominic Cooke were asked about the abuse storyline and how little they gave away and the reasoning behind that during a recent Q&A in London, and here’s what they had to say:

Saoirse: “We did discuss it in rehearsals and it was something that we knew was going to be suggested in the script. For me personally, I think it was important because it was such a repressed memory and it was so traumatic for her, so traumatic that she hadn’t even fully comprehended it yet, I thought it was quite important to sort of have it somewhere in the back of my mind but really build up other elements of the character to make sure that that didn’t define her or overwhelm the character too much. For me, the two points of focus were Edward and her music and that sort of faded into the background. Of course there were trigger moments where you could play that, but I decided it was really important to not make it an abuse story.”

Ian: “In successive drafts of On Chesil Beach the novel, I cut down and down and down on that moment of abuse, I wanted it there but I didn’t want it to dominate, as Saoirse says, and then you and I (to Dom) in post-production cut it down and down and down again… I didn’t want that moment of abuse to be the sole reason why the night failed. It had to be just one element of Florence’s very chilly domestic environment she comes from… It was always a delicate matter.”

Dominic: “I think the abuse is really important part of a much bigger weighted history that holds these young people back from being able to connect and be themselves. That’s part of the tragedy of the story.”

You can read my read of On Chesil Beach here. The film is in selected cinemas now.

SEE ALSO: The technical difficulties of shooting On Chesil Beach in the actual location

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