Film: Atonement, CineCentre, Nu Metro: ****

2008-02-18 00:00

Drama: Young girl’s misunderstanding leads to devastation

Director Joe Wright was roundly slated for his film version of Pride and Prejudice, but he has, well, atoned, for that mistake with his latest adaptation. Keira Knightley again stars for him, in Atonement, based on the novel by Ian McEwan.

On a sultry, fateful weekend in pre-World War 2 England, the Tallis family are assembled at their country manor with a dangerous combination of guests.

The youngest child of the family, Briony Tallis, is 13 and wants to be a writer. Her naivete and overheated imagination produce a terrible misunderstanding when she sees her older sister Cecilia (Knightley) strip off in front of Robbie, the son of their housekeeper.

The two are in love with each other, but Briony only sees something dark and adult that she is afraid of and doesn’t understand, and her subsequent actions condemn both love and lovers. Then the war brings its own devastation.

The book has a great plot, and the movie keeps up a good pace, enhanced by the score, which blends music with the clack-clack of typewriter keys.

This also has the effect of foregrounding how important writing is in the movie: it’s a typewritten note that helps start all the trouble, and it’s the titular act of atonement that is effected through writing.

Atonement is beautiful to look at, from the pretty country house to the surreality of war. This film may become famous for its extraordinary Dunkirk scene, filmed in one long take, in which soldiers wait desperately to be taken home among the ruins of a seaside village.

You’ll enjoy this even if you haven’t read the book.

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