Universal Studios & Working Title Films
Firstly I’d like to mention that you know something is of some merit, when rottontomatoes.com give it 100% high quality rating. Perhaps because of how brilliantly and acutely a book has been adapted to work on the big screen. With British director Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice) at the helm, Atonement vividly transpires as a smart, lush and massively faithful adaptation of Ian McEwan’s 2001 successful novel. Set in 1930’s and 1940’s England, it flawlessly echoes the acting standards and romantic clichés of that era, down to the apt British accents. And right through to the wonderfully passionate and dark soundtrack.The first 50 minutes of the film is entirely based on the summer day that is reflected in the rest of the story. By simply replaying a scene over and over again, using a different perspective and detail, we get a very clever perpetual shuffling of time.
The film thrusts the audience straight into the story, beginning on a hot summer day in the beautiful green southeast England, in 1935. 13 year old Briony Tallis finishes typing another one of her amateur plays to be performed at home to welcome back her older brother. We are briefly but efficiently shown the Tallis house, land, and practically the entire cast within the first couple of minutes. Jump straight to Briony who happens to be looking out from her bedroom window, when her sister Cecilia suddenly removes all of her clothes in front of Robbie Turner the housekeeper’s son, and climbs into a large pond to retrieve something. Stunned at her sister’s lack of modesty, and confused by her childish emotions, Briony feels obligated to turn on Robbie. And clearly very unaware of the consequences that her actions might cause, she accuses him of an outrageous crime he never committed. The ramifications of her childish spite and ignorance reverberate throughout the years, and lead to a tragic and poignant ending.
Having been sent to war, Robbie finally returns to England to visit Cecilia, who is now working as a nurse in London. However the visit is momentary, as he must return to France to fight in the Second World War, where he ends up as one of the thousands of soldiers deserted at Dunkirk, waiting for the fleet to ship them back home to England. Cut to London, and Briony is now older and also working as a nurse, in what appears to be some sort of guilt-ridden quest to eradicate the shame she now feels, and the hurt she caused as a child. The final emotional 45 minutes of the film are fuelled by Briony’s pursuit for atonement, for the opportunity to just speak to Cecilia and Robbie once again.
From start to finish the film compels you into a tragic masterpiece, from the naivety of youth and the pain and suffering it can cause later on. Atonement is a clever, ambitious, and compassionate picture that doesn’t shy away from the bleakness and isolation of loss, guilt and heartbreak.