If you’ve been desperately wanting another Saoirse Ronan movie after Lady Bird, the wait is over. Ronan’s next film, On Chesil Beach, comes out on May 18 and, just like the Oscar-nominated Lady Bird, it sees Ronan playing a relatable young woman trying to figure out impending adulthood. In this '60s-set drama based on Ian McEwan’s novel of the same name, Ronan stars as Florence, a 21-year-old who has just married her first love, Edward (Billy Howle). The duo come from vastly different backgrounds; Florence is a violinist from an upper middle class, conservative family, while Edward is a history buff who grew up with an unconventional family dynamic. When the couple celebrates their marriage in a hotel, the events that occur there unexpectedly change both their lives forever.
On Chesil Beach includes a series of flashbacks that look at how Florence and Edward became a couple, and provides insight into both of their upbringings. In this exclusive clip of one of the flashbacks, viewers see Florence preparing for the consummation of her marriage by reading a sex manual. Alongside her sister, she sits horrified in the bathroom, reading that “women are like doorways men can enter through” and “the penis fills with blood." It makes sex sound like a horror film, and Florence is, naturally, supremely disturbed.
For Lady Bird fans, this moment might seem akin to the scene where Lady Bird expresses her curiosity over what will happen once she loses her virginity. But in a way, Florence is the opposite of Ronan’s now-iconic character; she's totally freaked out about sex throughout the film, which causes turmoil when she goes on her honeymoon. Still, like Lady Bird, this new film isn’t quite a romantic drama, but a coming-of-age story that looks into the role that relationships have in a young woman's life. It delves into what it’s like to navigate sex and a first love while being raised with the mentality that sex is reserved for your true love.
On Chesil Beach explores a side of sex we don’t often get to see in film. Instead of romanticizing it, the movie opens up the conversation about asexuality and the need to respect others’ sexual boundaries. Unlike films that use women’s sexuality solely as a form of empowerment, this film shows that it can be just as empowering to not want to have sex. It also plays with the concept of toxic masculinity and how the male desire for sex can too often overpower the ability to form a meaningful connection with someone. In this film, that toxic masculinity has consequences.
In an interview with Deadline, McEwan, who adapted his own novel into the film, commented on the importance of showing another side of sex during the ‘60s. “People would say when they read the book, ‘Well, this could not happen now, this terror [of sex].’ But all of us have to cross certain lines in life and this is one of the most important ones from innocence to experience," said McEwan. "The media presentation of [the ‘60s] is often that it’s all just glorious and it’s simple, and we had a sexual revolution and nobody needs to worry about anyone anyway, so everyone is having the most amazing sex all the time. And it’s a lie.”
On Chesil Beach’s story may be pretty different from Lady Bird’s, but it carries a similarly important message of not compromising your boundaries for others. Even though the film is set in the ‘60s, female viewers can likely still relate to Florence's struggle of trying to figure out her sexuality and what she truly wants out of a romantic relationship, all while dealing with the complications of growing up.