It seems that most of Ian McEwan’s novels are made into films. Some are more better translated than others and probably Atonement has been the most successful. This film came out in May of this year and The Children Act was in cinemas in August so the pursuit continues. McEwan’s narratives are attractive to film-makers but sometimes something of his subtlety can be lost in the more literal milieu of film. However, he has written the screenplays for both the recent films so they should have more chance of authenticity.
The drama centres on a young couple of drastically different backgrounds in the summer of 1962. Following the pair through their idyllic courtship, the film explores sex and the societal pressure that can accompany physical intimacy, leading to an awkward and fateful wedding night. The film stars Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle as the couple.
Ronan turns in a strong performance as the daughter of a snobbish academic (Emily Watson) and an abusive businessman (Samuel West) who, when not scowling at other members of her string quartet, falls for someone a little less well off. (On hearing that Edward has just graduated from University College London, her mum, a colleague of Iris Murdoch, sniffs that it educates ‘the sons of tradesmen’.) The transformation from Saoirse’s turn in Lady Bird, which we showed in July, could hardly be more marked: coiled throughout like a bound umbrella, her voice lowered significantly in register. Billy Howle is also strong as the befuddled, earnest grammar-school boy. There is a spark between the actors but it is deadened by reticence.
The picture has some wry fun with the dampness of British life. The food served in their hotel room looks grey and awful, but the sniggering waiters still insist upon ‘silver service. The film-makers allow no hint that culture is about to change; many reviewers, however, have referred to Philip Larkin’s poem, Annus Mirabilis, which contained the immortal lines: ‘Sexual intercourse began/In nineteen sixty-three/(which was rather late for me) -/Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban/And the Beatles’ first LP.’
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Venue: William Loveless Hall