Remember my discovery of James McAvoy a while back? I liked him so much in Becoming Jane that I decided to finally get off my tukkus and watch Atonement. Wow.
Beautifully shot, the movie begins by introducing us to the wealthy Tallis family, ensconced in an impressive estate in England during the late 1930s. Briony (played as a young girl by Saoirse Ronan), the youngest member of the family at 13, is a budding writer, concocting plays and other works to be presented at family gatherings. We also meet Cecilia Tallis (played with heartbreak by Kiera Knightley), Briony's gorgeous older sister. During the early course of the film, Cecilia learns that Robbie (McAvoy), educated son of the family housekeeper, is in love with her. In a moment of almost-shock, Cecilia realizes that she returns this love.
Young Briony, who happens to have a crush on Robbie herself, accidentally walks in on the two lovers one pivotal evening. Events later that night lead to Briony accusing Robbie of a crime he didn't commit. His quick arrest, and subsequent enrollment in the British army (WWI), deny Robbie and Cecilia the time together that they so long for.
Years later, Briony sorts through what happened, understanding her terrible error and what it meant, leading to the title of the film.
This film is beautiful to look at. Shots are carefully composed. Period costuming, hair, makeup, and props are impeccable. Keira Knightley wears an emerald gown that is a revelation. It is cut so delicately that it even makes her stick-thin body look curvy. Don't believe me? Check it out for yourself.
Performances are amazing. Knightley portrays Cecilia as achingly bewildered by her feelings, then stricken with yearning at being separated from her lover. McAvoy's Robbie is a triumph, particularly in the scenes during his military service. There is a slow, uninterrupted shot of his face, during which he discovers the evidence of a mass execution, that will stay with me a long time. An older Briony is played in a genius turn by Vanessa Redgrave at the end of the film, summing up the heart of the tale.
I sobbed like a baby at the end. Sooo worth seeing.