On Chesil Beach director Dominic Cooke discusses using his experience as a theatre director while still relishing the tools that are unique to cinema. Read part 1 of the interview here. Read the rest of our On Chesil Beach Special Issue here.
After decades as a theatre director, Dominic Cooke made his silver screen debut with On Chesil Beach: set in the 1960s, the film is about Florence (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward (Billy Howle), a newly married couple who struggle to talk about and connect during sex. The film is exactingly framed and blocked, meaning every movement the actors make is pregnant with meaning. Cooke masterfully translates his theatrical sensibilities to the screen, taking advantage of what film offers that theatre can’t: close-ups, macros, and the ability to move the audience wherever you want them (the frame, unlike the stage, isn’t static).
We first talked to Cooke when On Chesil Beach premiered at TIFF. I caught up with Cooke again before the film’s wide release to talk about how he approached framing, set design, and editing for the screen. We discussed how On Chesil Beach shares themes with Cooke’s production of Follies — which opened the night before On Chesil Beach premiered.
7R: How did you approach blocking On Chesil Beach?
DC: In some situations, I was very clear up front with precisely what I was trying to achieve. In other situations, I was responding more to what the actors do. I would rehearse with the actors, do staging, and then bring the DoP and show him what I’d done. You have an idea when you start, and you might have a specific idea of where you want to keep the actors within a particular frame. But often, they’ll do something organically which has more life and seems more truthful.