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Atonement (2007)  rating

Review: written 2008

Atonement (2007)

Joe Wright has wrought something quite magnificent with his latest film. It's what Brits do best - superbly photographed period drama with serious actors, seriously acting.

In 30's England in a stately manor, we are introduced to two sisters. The elder (Keira Knightley, looking ravishing, and speaking in her best clipped tones..) is in love with Robbie (James Macevoy), who is not upper class but has been a friend of the family for some years. A moment charged with sexual tension is observed by the younger sister, Briony, is misinterpreted, and ultimately leads to a false accusation. It is the results of that accusation that drive the movie’s narrative that follows, and Briony's growing understanding of what she has done and how she can atone for it.

Acting, particularly the three actresses playing Briony, is superb. Even better is the stunning photography which is both beautiful and imaginative... although the much-hyped Dunkirk beach scene comes off as more ‘showing off’ than intrinsically useful to the story, as audacious as it is. The Oscar winning score is outstanding, striking sombre, aching and dramatic notes as required, and punctuating scenes with the staccato rhythm of a typewriter to great effect.

However, there is a pacing problem with the movie. By shortening the novel in the section which shows what Robbie endures as a result of the accusation, we do not get a deep enough sense of the tragedy to make the pay-off as effective as it should be. It's a quibble, but one which robs the movie of a good deal of its emotional impact.

This is a great director's calling card, and fantastic viewing on many levels. I suggest that it only falls short of being a masterpiece by a flawed middle section, and being just a little too self-consciously clever from the director's chair.

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