Atonement (15)



Drama (2007)
122mins UK

Starring: Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Romola Garai, Saoirse Ronan
Director: Joe Wright
Writer(s): Christopher Hampton
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

In the baking hot summer of 1935, England stands on the brink of war, and families prepare to bid farewell to fathers and sons. Aspiring writer Briony Tallis escapes harsh reality with her wealthy family at their Victorian Gothic mansion in the countryside. A terrible misunderstanding leads to Briony accusing the housekeeper's son, Robbie Turner, of a crime he did not commit. Forcibly removed from the house, and taken away from his lover Cecilia, Briony's sister, Robbie embarks on a momentous journey from the battlefields back to the woman he loves.

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LondonNet Film Review
Atonement

Since opening the Venice Film Festival, Joe Wright's immaculately crafted film has been anointed as the first bona fide Oscar contender of the year...

Keira Knightley (Cecilia) and James McAvoy (Robbie Turner) co-star in Atonement.Photo Credit: Alex Bailey. Copyright:  2006 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Atonement certainly looks the part - a visually stunning adaptation of Ian McEwan's haunting love story set against a backdrop of World War II Europe. Performances are excellent and Wright, who treated us to a magnificent version of Pride & Prejudice two years ago, confirms his status as a virtuoso director, conjuring scenes of breathtaking beauty. However, despite flawless production design and filmmaking brio, Atonement doesn't quite stir the heart as deeply as it should, falling short of the devastating emotional power of McEwan's novel.

Juno Temple (Lola) on the set of Atonement. Photo Credit: Alex Bailey. Copyright:  2006 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVEDThe film opens in the baking hot summer of 1935. Precocious 13-year-old Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) is far removed from the harsh realities of impending conflict with her wealthy family at their Victorian Gothic mansion. Blessed with an overactive imagination, the aspiring writer prepares to stage her first play, The Trials Of Arabella, in honour of older brother Leon (Patrick Kennedy). The youngster senses tension between her willowy sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and the housekeeper's son, Robbie Turner (James McAvoy). "Why don't you talk to Robbie anymore?" asks Briony. "I do, we just move in different circles," brusquely replies Cecilia. A terrible misunderstanding leads Briony to accuse Robbie of abuse and he is forcibly removed from the house, taken away from Cecilia, who implores him, "Come back to me!"

James McAvoy (Robbie Turner) and Keira Knightley (Cecilia) on the set of Atonement. Photo Credit: Alex Bailey. Copyright:  2006 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED  Four years later, Robbie has been released from prison to serve his country, prowling Northern France with fellow soldiers Tommy Nettle (Daniel Mays) and Frank Mace (Nonso Anozie). Still, he cannot forget Cecilia and his promise: "I will return, find you, love you, marry you and live without shame." Meanwhile, Briony (now played by Romola Garai) struggles to come to terms with her guilt, promising to make amends by telling "the absolute truth, no rhymes, no embellishments, no adjectives."

Atonement sags noticeably in the middle section but on the whole, the film sustains dramatic momentum for two hours, powered by McAvoy's stunning portrayal of a wronged man at the mercy of social mores and outrageous misfortune. The scene in which his soldier stands forlornly over a field strewn with the dead, tears streaming from those starling blue eyes, will melt a million female hearts.

James McAvoy (Robbie Turner) on the set of Atonement. Photo Credit: Alex Bailey. Copyright:  2006 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Knightley's portrayal of icy Cecilia treads a fine line between unsympathetic and emotionally repressed and young Ronan impresses, making Garai seem lifeless in comparison. Wright's boldness behind the camera is impressive, but in one audacious sequence, his enthusiasm gets the better of him. He shoots Robbie's arrival at Dunkirk in a single, elaborate Steadicam shot, the camera slowly gliding between injured soldiers and a huge beached boat, before encircling a bandstand where a choir sings "Keep The Home Fires Burning". It's a spectacular sequence, but Wright should be more concerned with serving the narrative than showboating.

- Sam Cannon

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