Film Review: Atonement (2007)

“I suppose we should start by reading it”

Atonement was only Joe Wright’s second film but crikey it’s a good’un. Following on from Pride and Prejudice with another literary adaptation was a bold move, especially in taking on such a modern classic as Ian McEwan’s 2001 Booker Prize nominee but with Christopher Hampton on script duties and Wright’s visionary eye at the helm, Atonement is a deliciously gorgeous piece of art.

From Kiera Knightley’s iconic green dress to that epic Dunkirk tracking shot, from a three-fold Briony (Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave) to narrative daring that enriches the whole piece, Atonement is a sumptuous and assured film that has lost none of its charge nearly ten years on. Wright is blessed with a top-notch cast to be sure, but it is his flair that characterises the film’s brilliance.

The heart of the story lies in the trio of Briony Tallis, her older sister Cecilia and her paramour Robbie. We first meet Briony as a precocious 13 year old with a crush on her sister’s boyfriend and a child’s headstrong determination that she is always right. A misinterpreted sequence of events leads her to make a terrible mistake, one which impacts severely on all their lives and it is that legacy that carries us through the story.

I won’t say much more plotwise for it is a joy to experience unspoiled and I don’t think its leads have ever been better. You see exactly why Knightley is Wright’s muse in every languid movement, McAvoy carries the weight of the world on his shoulders and is particularly excellent in the wordless Dunkirk sequence and the 12 year old Ronan is outstanding as the vividly self-possessed younger Briony. I’d go so far as to say I consider Atonement a modern classic.

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