Impressively directed, beautifully photographed and superbly adapted drama with terrific performances from its cast.
What's it all about?
Adapted from the novel by Ian McEwan, Atonement begins at an English manor house in 1935, when young Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) witnesses two sexually charged encounters between her big sister Cecilia and the housekeeper's son, Robbie (James McAvoy), that she doesn't fully understand. Shortly afterwards, a young houseguest (Juno Temple) is sexually assaulted and Briony's overactive imagination leads her to make an accusation that she will spend the rest of her life regretting.
McAvoy and Knightley are terrific as the two leads and there's genuine chemistry between them, especially in the two key scenes. Saoirse Ronan makes an impressive big screen debut as Briony and there's strong support from both Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave (playing older versions of Briony), as well as Benedict Cumberbatch (as a wealthy houseguest), Brenda Blethyn (as Robbie's mother, the cook) and Gina McKee as a senior nurse on Briony's ward during the war.
The film is beautifully shot, with stunning cinematography courtesy of Seamus McGarvey. Some of his images are simply breathtaking and there's also an impressively long tracking shot during the Dunkirk sequence, if you like that sort of thing. Dario Marianelli's score is equally impressive, particularly the way in which it incorporates the sound of Briony's typewriter, which has the effect of both heightening tension and clueing you in to the film's ultimate revelation.
Pride and Prejudice director Joe Wright has a firm grasp of the material and he orchestrates some astonishing sequences, aided by Christopher Hampton's excellent script. As a result, this is one of the most faithful novel-to-film adaptations in recent memory.
In short, Atonement is a beautifully made, superbly acted and emotionally engaging drama that should please both fans of the book and novices alike. It's also certain to feature heavily in the nominations come Oscar time. Highly recommended.