Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday Film Fest: On Chesil Beach. . .

Still, Edward was troubled by the call of the beach, and if he had known how to propose it, or justify it, he might have suggested going out straight away. He had read aloud to Florence from a guidebook that said that thousands of years of pounding storms had sifted and graded the size of pebbles along the eighteen miles of each, with the bigger stones at the eastern end. The legend was that local fishermen landing at night knew exactly where they were by the grade of the shingle. Florence had suggested they might see for themselves by comparing handfuls gathered a mile apart. Trudging along the beach would have been better than sitting here.
- On Chesil Beach

England has no shortage of landscapes evoked by its literature, and after reading Ian McEwan's novella about a young, sexually ignorant couple on their honeymoon in 1962,  Chesil Beach leaped onto my list of places to one day visit. It's the site of crucial scenes not only in the book, but also in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's terrific 1949 film The Small Back Room.  Set during WWII, David Farrar plays Sammy Rice, a bomb disposal expert who is struggling with his own personal demons: an injury that still causes him much pain, the resulting temptation to turn to alcohol (there's a surreal but fascinating scene featuring a whisky bottle that becomes almost larger than life), and how his insecurities are affecting his  girlfriend Susan (a much more sophisticated, though no less complicated relationship than Edward and Florence's). A key scene is set right on Chesil Beach when Sammy is called to diffuse a German bomb that has fallen on the beach. The suspense is gripping.  Every time he moves, the pebbles start to shift alarmingly; the bomb could be triggered at any moment.

The movie also showcases the beauty of the surrounding area, and this very unique strip of land that is a World Heritage site.  Just don't take any souvenirs home, as McEwan found out the hard way. And we can look forward to a movie adaptation of On Chesil Beach; McEwan is working on the screenplay.

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