ATONEMENT: LIES, ROMANCE, AND WAR IN A SWEEPING EPIC
Atonement has unrequited love, an attention wanting brat, war, and high society. It opens your eyes to how many lives can be changed with one lie. Joseph Wright takes his Pride and Prejudice star Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, and newcomer Saoirse Ronan to bring us the backdrop of England during WWII in this story of a young couple whose love can’t be realized.
Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) wants to put on her finished play for her older brother Leon that is coming to visit the family estate outside of London. It is summer, 1935. Briony loves to write and wants the attention she feels she deserves. While in her bedroom Briony witnesses an exchange between her sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and the servant Robbie (James McAvoy). When Robbie gives Briony a note to pass on to her sister, she reads it and is horrified. The note was not meant for her young eyes and in turn makes her form an incorrect opinion of Robbie. So when Briony catches Cecilia and Robbie in a compromising position, her thoughts on him are cemented in her mind. And when her cousin Lola is sexually assaulted that evening by a man she believes to be Robbie, she makes it known and shows the note to Cecilia to her mother and the authorities. This leads to Robbie being arrested and the separation of him and Cecilia. The three of them are affected by this event for the rest of their lives.
Atonement was adapted for the screen from the novel of the same name. It has all the essentials for a larger than life story: history in the making, romance, and obstacles that prevent love. It has the unique aspect of more than one character’s view of the events that unfold. You see Briony witnessing an exchange between Robbie and Cecilia, and then you see the actual exchange. You want to see Robbie and Cecilia together and you see the struggle that Briony goes through because of what she has done. Briony is played by three different actresses. Saoirse Ronan plays the young Briony. She captures the true essence of this child who yearns for attention and gets just that when she is the eye witness to a crime. She is stubborn, bossy, and wide eyed. Her confusion is as plain as day when she stumbles upon Robbie and Cecilia before dinner. Romola Garai plays the eighteen year old Briony and she battles her demons by becoming a nurse during the war. She wants to repent to her sister but instead comforts injured soldiers. Keira Knightley (with a face born to play period pieces) and James McAvoy are subtle and alluring as the young couple in love. They don’t have much time together but you can feel the pull between them. The Tallis’s estate is a prominent part of the story. There is the fountain where the lovers argue, the library where Briony comes upon Cecilia and Robbie, the field where Briony finds her cousin Lola being assaulted. And while Robbie is at war you almost feel like you are watching a nightmare. Robbie comes upon a group of bodies that brings tears to his eyes. There is the beach where the soldiers group together to wait to be evacuated. There are men singing and drinking with an atmosphere of pure madness. Last but not least the costumes are utterly perfect, with Knightley’s Cecilia in particular. Her emerald green dress during the pivotal dinner scene will take your breath away. Each costume tells where each character’s social position is.
Atonement is a highly dramatic romance with everything blocking its path. It has talented stars, beautiful scenery, knockout costumes, and a great story. Joseph Wright has hit the jackpot with his muse Keira Knightley.