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From On Chesil Beach to Casablanca: not all fairytales are happily ever after

Aka some tragic love stories on screen that will break your heart

Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle in a scene from On Chesil Beach.
Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle in a scene from On Chesil Beach.

The coming together of two lost souls is what lays the foundations for many of Hollywood’s most wondrous of cinematic endeavours. It’s a tried, tested and triumphant narrative structure; the aptly titled “will they won’t they?”. Yet sometimes in cinema, they won’t – as for all of the romance comes some heartbreak, and to mark the release of On Chesil Beach, which features a marriage that lasts the best part of six hours, we look over some of near misses in Hollywood, the times when love sadly, wasn’t in the air. Based on the Ian McEwan novel, which, much like the aforementioned relationship, isn’t very long – On Chesil Beach stars Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle, two young lovers who find themselves in a complicated situation. But they aren’t the first on screen…

A scene from On Chesil Beach.
A scene from On Chesil Beach.

CASABLANCA
Considered to be one the most romantic films of all time, and yet amazingly, the leading duo of Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) don’t actually get together at the end. Yet isn’t this more fitting sometimes? In real life there can be a myriad of factors that deny us the chance to be with the person we love, and this film explores that notion in a striking way. But hey, least Rick doesn’t leave empty handed, for he begins a beautiful friendship with Louis, so there’s always that.

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca.
Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca.

ANNIE HALL
Heartbreaking and honest, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall is the antidote to the archetypal romantic-comedy. Films that have been heavily inspired by this masterpiece, such as When Harry Met Sally, opt for the safer finale, and while there’s a great degree of comfortability to the coming together of two romantic leads in a movie, sometimes, that’s just not how the cookie crumbles. In Annie Hall, the writer, director and star Allen summarizes at the end that love is essential, especially when neurotic, so while their story doesn’t come with a happy ending, the overriding sentiment of the movie is a profoundly auspicious one.

Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Annie Hall.
Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Annie Hall.

BIG
We include Big in our list, but let’s face it, it’s not a romance we were ever particularly rooting for. An excellent film that boasts, potentially, Tom Hanks finest ever performance – let’s face it, it’s a rather complex and somewhat troubling story. I mean, yeah he’s in a 30 year olds body. But he’s still a kid. Thanks for not letting this one happen Hollywood, sometimes we agree, people shouldn’t be together.

Tom Hanks and Elizabeth Perkins in Big.
Tom Hanks and Elizabeth Perkins in Big.

TITANIC
Yeah, he dies at the end.

Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic.

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN
Sometimes people aren’t supposed to be together, sometimes, they’re not able to be. In Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, it’s the latter, as it studies the toxic templates of masculinity, in a tale of two cowboys who fall in love. It’s got one of the most moving endings to a film in recent memory, bereft of a happy ending. Unlike in Big, here’s one we did want to see happen.

Heath Ledger and Jack Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain.
Heath Ledger and Jack Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain.

THE BREAK-UP
Now the clue here is in the title, but in The Break-Up, the viewer is lulled into a false sense of security. It’s about a couple who break up (naturally) – played by Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston. Now the idea here is that they’re going to get back together, right? We’ve seen this movie a million times, they break up, realize they’re supposed to be together and somehow find a way back in to each other’s arms. But they don’t. They actually don’t, we were shocked and mightily impressed in equal measure.

Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston in “The Break-Up.”
Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston in “The Break-Up.”

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER
I’m sorry but if you can’t do it in 500 days, then give up.

Zooey Deschanel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (and Ringo Starr) in (500) Days of Summer.
Zooey Deschanel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (and Ringo Starr) in (500) Days of Summer.

LA LA LAND
This is an excellent example of romance that was meant to be, but simply didn’t happen. And director Damien Chazelle plays with convention in an affectionate, if barbed way. For he gives us the traditional Hollywood ending, he shows us what could’ve been, the two star-crossed lovers, played by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, aren’t together, but we see a scenario where they were. We’re given the Hollywood ending and then it’s snatched away from us, and in turn, we discover they didn’t ever get together. A wondrous finale to the movie, and while devastating, it’s a lot more real. Because ladies and gentlemen, real life is rubbish.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land.
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land.
  • Watch here On Chesil Beach trailer:

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