On Chesil Beach

Saoirse Ronan gave her first great screen performance in Atonement (2007), which was adapted from an Ian McEwan novel, so her starring role in this drama, which McEwan adapted to the screen from his own book, raises certain expectations. She plays a prim, upper-class British girl in the early 1960s, and Billy Howles is the working-class lad she adores against her parents’ wishes. The story begins on the lovers’ wedding day and, as flashbacks chronicle their courtship and romance, inches toward their wedding night, when things don’t go exactly as planned. This narrative structure amounts to a sort of literary tease that the heroine would probably find vulgar, though once McEwan fully exposes the couple’s compromised relationship there are some strong scenes of them surveying the wreckage together. British thespian Dominic Cooke makes his feature directing debut; with Emily Watson and Anne-Marie Duff.