ATONEMENT- 2007 - A Classic Review - directed by Joe Wright – screenplay by Christopher Hampton - the players are: Cecilia (Keira Knightley), Robbie (James McAvoy), Briony (Saoirse Ronan), cameo by (Vanessa Redgrave) – If it’s escape you’re in need of, you’ll find it here. Joe Wright also directed PRIDE AND PREDJUDICE … make that next on your list.
The dream like sets and locations make this movie a visual feast. It is framed with stunning camera work throughout by Seamus McGarvey. To achieve a soft focus effect for many of the scenes, he stretched a single layer of a nylon stocking over the lens. Ha! Right out of film school!... at’a boy… I love it when they do that!
Based upon a novel by Ian McEwan, the film pivots on the actions of a sexually naïve
13 year old Briony, an aspiring novelist, whose child-like confusion is amplified by her lies, and fueled by a youthful jealousy and a vindictive nature.
The story begins in the household and on the estate of a wealthy English family just prior to WWII. The upstairs/ downstairs nature of the relationships plays a heavy motivating role around which the plot revolves. The house keeper’s brilliant son Robbie has been sent to Oxford by the family patriarch.
Regardless of their difference in class Robbie and the older sister, Cecilia, are attracted to each other. Briony witnesses a romantic encounter between Cecilia and Robbie, which is amplified by her own crush on Robbie, and sees it as unacceptable behavior.
The same night this occurs, she accidentally witnesses in a dark woods, a house guest raping her best friend Lola. Making a youthful, spiteful decision she lies and tells the police that it was Robbie who was the rapist.
He is convicted and sent to prison. After several years he given the choice… join the army or
remain in prison. He joins the army, and is sent to France where he
experiences the brutality of war.
He is sustained by their exchange of letters and a hope that they will be united. Tragically he is wounded and after a lingering illness dies just before he can be evacuated at Dunkirk. That very night, Cecilia – now a nurse - has taken shelter in an underground train tunnel. A German bomb breaches the tunnel and Cecilia drowns in the onrush of water.
Two lives that would have experienced the blissful happiness of shared love have
been destroyed. The title of Ian McEwan’s book and this movie could just as easily
have been “Redemption”. Can redemption be earned…. can one atone for such a
devastating act of betrayal?
The story ends at the close of the twentieth century with the Briony, now the author of
an autobiographical novel, being interviewed on a television talk show and reliving those past events. With her delusions intact she reveals the lies in her story and doesn’t see the point of “all that honesty”.
She invents a scene in her “autobiography” where she confronts Cecilia and Robby and apologizes. In her talk-show interview she confesses this lie and she believes that
she has redeemed herself by giving them – in her book – a happy life together.
Is it possible to atone for… or to obtain absolution for such a deed? The two people who’s lives she destroyed died dreadful deaths. Unfortunately, my belief system does
not include a Hell where she can burn eternally.