THERE may not be an odder or more exasperating failure this year than this adaptation of Ian McEwan’s 2007 novel. McEwan’s work generally is founded on a hugely contrived emotional or moral crisis and requires a certain leap of faith. On this occasion, what just about works on the page flounders horribly in the full glare of the cinema lights and the expectation on a film like this to be at least in some way entertaining.

It’s set in 1962. Newlyweds Florence (Saiorse Ronan) and Edward (Billy Howle) have arrived at their honeymoon destination, a stuffy hotel on Chesil Beach, in Dorset. In their early twenties, both are still virgins; this, and the fact that ’62 is closer in spirit to the uptight Fifties than the Swinging Sixties, makes the evening more daunting a prospect than might seem necessary for two attractive young people in love.

And while two leering waiters make a meal of setting out their room service, you could cut the tension with a knife. The evening will not be easy for either of them.

For most of the film, the story switches between the wedding night and the courtship that led them to this moment. Writing the screenplay himself, McEwan presents two very different people. Florence is from a well-to-do conservative family, whose father is particularly overbearing; she is a talented violinist, with her own string quartet and big ambitions. Edward’s dad is a teacher, his art-loving mother a semi-invalid, who has brain damage after an accident and the unfortunate habit of greeting guests without her clothes; he has just graduated with a history degree, wants to be a writer and loves jazz.

They meet at a CND meeting, where any differences in background or temperament are brushed away by mutual attraction. Indeed, one of the puzzling aspects of the scenario is that McEwan goes to the great trouble of suggesting a clash of backgrounds, then makes nothing of it. The most that the flashbacks achieve is to establish the pathos of what’s about to happen.

The key difference between the couple is in their attitude to sex, in particular the fact that Florence is petrified by the prospect (what she calls the ‘demand’) and by the very thought of a male body; poor Edward, young man that is he, just doesn’t have the wherewithal to adjust.

But how this plays out really does stretch a point. In the hotel, it’s neither enjoyable nor interesting to watch the sorry pair fumble and distress themselves; the flashbacks feel like excess baggage and the flash forwards, to 1975 and 2007, are undone by the decision to bury these young performers beneath the most unconvincing make-up, rather than move onto older actors.

I feel for the two leads. Ronan is a well-established class act, of course, fresh from her success in Lady Bird, whose breakthrough 10 years ago happened to be in one of the better McEwan adaptations, Atonement. Like her, the appealing Howle (Dunkirk, The Sense of an Ending) gives it his all. The film’s one convincing and powerful sequence, on the beach itself, is entirely due to their efforts.

But despite the actors, the gorgeous cinematography and a solid musical backdrop that combines classical and jazz, it’s a chore. Director Dominic Cooke hails from theatre, with some TV, making his first film, so there’s some inexperience at play. Though I’d also lay blame at McEwan’s feet – not just because he’s failed to traverse the media, but for the presumption that every book written must have its moment on screen. Chesil Beach offers ample evidence to the contrary.